By Phil Stacey
---- — SALEM — An honor roll student who gets A’s and B’s at Beverly High School, it wasn’t hard for Ryan Santo to do the math while the game was going on.
Shot after shot he put on Miles Barry last night, but the Marblehead goaltender denied him at every opportunity. Eight times Santo fired the puck towards the Headers’ goal, and eight times Barry turned him away.
But Santo’s persistence paid off, resulting in one of the biggest goals — and wins — of the Beverly High hockey season.
Finishing off a odd-man rush, Santo took a feed from captain Connor Irving and roofed the game-winner into the Marblehead cage with just 3:38 to play, giving the unbeaten Panthers a thrilling 4-3 victory over the resilient Headers at the Rockett Arena.
“It was starting to feel like nothing I did was going to put the puck in the net,” said the 17-year-old Santo. “But scoring at the end like that made it all worth it.”
Beverly (14-0-1), which dominated both in puck possession and shots on goal (a whopping 41-10 advantage), never led until Santo’s game-winner. Right wing Jesse MacLaughlin shot up ice into the Marblehead zone and fed Irving in the slot. The slick pivot drew the Headers’ defenseman towards him before dishing off to Santo on his left, and the portsider buried his third goal of the season in dramatic fashion.
“I was gunning down the middle and cut left, and Connor put a perfect pass on my stick. I didn’t have much time (to shoot), so I looked up quickly, saw the top right part of the net was wide open and did my best to put it up there,” said Santo.
“I’ve never had a feeling like that before; it’s the most exciting goal I’ve ever scored. For it to happen on Senior Night, too ... I’m speechless.”
It was the third win in as many tries this winter for Beverly over Marblehead (10-5). The Panthers have not lost a game at Salem State in more than two seasons.
“Every time we’ve played them in my four years here it’s been a great game,” Beverly senior center Graham Doherty, who scored his 13th and 14th goals last night, said of the Headers. “They came in ready for a fight and we had to respond, especially after they went ahead (2-0) so early. We worked to stay positive and just chipped away little by little at their lead. We felt confident that if we stuck with our style, we’d be able to wear them down.”
The Panthers used their checking line of center Kevin Lally and wings Jake Straw and J.J. Bachini on Marblehead’s big line of Tom Koopman, Matt Koopman and Braden Haley. Lally was assigned the job of shadowing Matt Koopman, the dangerous sophomore playmaker, and did his job well by limiting the sophomore’s chances and maneuverability in open space.
Marblehead, whose only losses this season have come to Beverly (3 times) and Winthrop (twice), has scored 10 goals against the Panthers this winter; that’s half of the total goals the Orange-and-Black have surrendered in 15 games. They also got a monster effort from Barry, the senior who was spectacular in making a career-high 37 saves.
But still, moral victories weren’t what they were looking for.
“We’ve been trying to work on our mental toughness. We tended to tighten up a bit (as Beverly came back from that early 2-goal deficit) and it had a domino effect on us,” said Marblehead coach Bob Jackson. “We’re not mentally where we need to be ... (and) that’s the fewest shots we’ve had against anybody in a long, long time.
“(Beverly’s) a real good team. They’ll kill you with all the snipers they have, and they have a half-dozen guys who see the play real well. They had a lot of 3-on-2’s and got the puck back to their trailer. Thankfully Miles had his best game of the season; if not for him we might’ve lost 10-3.”
The Headers jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the first period on goals from senior captain Tom Koopman (on a feed from his brother Matt) and Erik Fader (from Dean Fader). Doherty scored with 30 seconds left in the first period to slice his team’s deficit in half, then tied it up with a power play rip at 4:57 of the second.
Marblehead didn’t have a shot on goal in the middle stanza until there was 1:45 remaining — but that shot gave them a 3-2 lead as defenseman Dan Gienieczko’s wrister from the right point was tipped in out front by Haley.
“We talked to our guys about staying composed and that’s what they did,” said Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan. “We had dominated that second period and were able to get the puck down low and kept skating to get their defensemen tired. If we could keep that up in the third period, we knew we’d be all right.”
MacLaughlin tied it up for Beverly with under 10 minutes to go, taking a feed from defenseman Sean Munzing and scoring on a high wrister from the circle. A shade under six minutes later, Santo won it for the Panthers.