By Phil Stacey
---- — SALEM — Complete.
It’s the best, most accurate word to describe the unbeaten Beverly High hockey team these days. And it was certainly apropos Saturday night before an estimated packed house of 1,500 fans at the Rockett Arena, when the Panthers were terrific in all three zones while shutting down defending Northeastern Conference North champion Danvers, 3-0.
“It was a statement game, no question,” said sophomore goaltender Tim Biarelli, whose 26 saves earned him his third shutout in six starts this winter. “In our minds, there was a big difference between being 6-1 and 7-0.”
“Huge statement tonight,” added captain Andrew Irving, who expanded upon his North Shore scoring lead with another goal and two assists. “All the talk about both teams, all those fans in the stands, them being the defending champs ... yeah, we had to come out and make a statement. I’d say we did.”
It was the fourth shutout in seven games for Beverly, which has outscored its foes by an aggregate score of 33-5.
Don’t misconstrue the final score into thinking that Danvers (5-2-1) played poorly; far from it. The Falcons had bursts of play where they applied heavy pressure in the Beverly zone and generated scoring chances for themselves.
But when push came to shove, it was the Panthers who didn’t budge. Behind the 26 saves from Biarelli and a quartet of punishing defensemen in captain Matt Hamor, Jack Morency, Sean Munzing and Nick Albano, the Orange-and-Black didn’t give Danvers much of a sniff offensively.
“Our defensemen, those guys love to be physical and play the body,” said Biarelli, who hasn’t allowed a goal in more than seven periods dating back to Dec. 27 against Marblehead. “I think those guys are really underrated. The way they clear the front for me really helps.”
Biarelli was at his best in the final 85 seconds of the first period, when his team clung to a 1-0 lead and Danvers pelted him with seven shots, five of those on a carryover power play. In one sequence against Falcons’ snipers Joe Strangie, Adam Merry and A.J. Couto, Biarelli made a save, then dove twice to deny subsequent rebounds, all within a span of about four seconds.
“Timmy’s a kid we have a lot of faith in,” said Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan. “He’s so big and strong physically and gets his legs going side-to-side in his crease easily. He can be amazing at times, like he was tonight.”
“When Timmy’s in his zone, you just can’t beat him,” added Andrew Irving. “He’s just so solid.”
Grabbing his own rebound and throwing a shot off of Danvers goaltender Alex Taylor (29 saves) from past the goal line, Andrew Irving’s 8th goal of the season gave Beverly a 1-0 lead after one period. The Falcons came out with guns blazing in the second period, but Beverly weathered the storm and got two huge goals to take all the momentum.
First, right wing Ryan Santo was the beneficiary of some great digging in the Danvers goal mouth. An Andrew Irving shot and Connor Irving follow-up were both stopped by Taylor, but the sophomore goalie couldn’t cover up the puck and Santo pounced, knocking it home at 7:31.
Less than three minutes later, Ryan Doherty took a pretty cross-ice pass from Jake Straw in the slot and roofed a one-timer past Taylor for a 3-0 advantage.
“They were better tonight,” said Danvers head coach Kevin Brown, “and the game was too inconsistent for us. We had some spots where we really went well, but didn’t have that same overall energy the entire game.
“Plus,” added Brown, “they won the loose puck battles and when they did, they capitalized on their second opportunities. When we had second chances, we didn’t.”
Beverly’s defense controlled play in the final period, limiting Danvers to five shots on goal while keeping up the pressure of its own with 14 shots on Taylor.
“I’m a little surprised we’re 7-0,” Andrew Irving said, “but at the same time, we’ve come together so well as a team and so focused that maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.”