LOWELL, Mass. – After accepting the Division 2 North champions trophy, Beverly's Connor Irving, still in his full gear, sprinted to the Panther locker room with an ear-to-ear grin.
“We're going to the Garden,” Irving screamed as he beat all of his teammates to the locker room.
It was that kind of night as Irving netted four goals, and added an assist, to drive Beverly to a 9-1 thrashing of Tewksbury at Tsongas Center.
Tewksbury scored first on a goal by Jack Cash, but the Panthers tied the game 58 seconds later and it was all orange and black from there. Irving's first goal came with three seconds left in the period. Linemate Jesse Maclaughlin launched the puck into the air before it was batted down by Ryan Santo right onto Irving's stick.
Irving split the Tewksbury defense and finessed the puck home to put Beverly ahead 3-1 after one.
“Connor senses when these guys are going to throw it out,” Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan said. “He's got good instincts. His transition game is so quick; you can see how well he skates. His edges are as good as anybody's.”
Irving's goal ignited Beverly. The Panthers erupted in the second period for five goals, including Irving's fourth, a short-handed goal, with 21 seconds left.
“These kids were working hard and fore-checking hard,” Gilligan said. “You could see in the second period, that first two shifts set the tone. They got tired; they got real tired. We kept pressuring them like that. The kids played smart; we didn't get caught down low. We got some skilled players,[and] when they get some open ice you see what they can do.”
Beverly's offense is well-established, but it was the Panther defense that locked the game down. Beverly held Tewksbury to 13 total shots and none in the second period. Tewksbury was held under three goals for the first time since Jan. 15.
Nick Albano had a goal and an assist from the blue line, but all three pairs stuffed Tewksbury from the opening draw.
“Jack [Morency] and Sean [Munzing] have been playing together for four years now,” Irving said. “Nick's unbelievable back on D. He's been playing some unreal games. Matt Hamor is a stalwart back there. I think it's just the chemistry. We've kept the same pairs for a long time and they work good together. They shut it down.”
Santo chipped in numerous times. The senior assisted on four goals, including the primary assist on three of Irving's goals. Santo said he didn't expect his point output to be so high.
“I know if I get the puck to Connor he's going to do something good with it,” Santo said. “Moving the puck, cycling, working hard on the forecheck, I didn't expect it either. I'm just trying to play my best.”
GETTING OVER THE HUMP: After two years of early exits from the tournament, last night's win propelled Beverly to the state final and a date with Medfield on Sunday.
Last year, the Panthers were bounced out by rival Danvers in the opening round on a goal with 11 seconds left. Gilligan said that game still tastes sour in his mouth.
“Danvers was a test; that was a thorn in our side,” Gilligan said. “These kids sat on that; they still didn't digest that. I didn't. I told them we've got to keep going. The Northeastern Conference is our main goal, and after that we've got to chip away at each game.”
The Panthers beat Danvers, 2-1, in a shootout in the North quarterfinal and have outscored their last two foes, Tewksbury and Lincoln-Sudbury, by a combined 14-2. Unlike Danvers, Beverly hadn't played L-S, Tewksbury, and now Medfield before the state tournament.
“I wasn't hoping for Medfield, but if you know a team and you think you can beat them, we thought we could beat Danvers,” Irving said. “I like having a team that we haven't played yet. I think we come out a lot harder when we don't know what we're going to get and we only hear what we're going to get.”
Irving starred on the last two Beverly teams alongside his cousin Andrew, and he said to make to Causeway Street was like a dream.
“We were so far but so close the past two years, lost in overtime as a sophomore, lost to Danvers with 11 seconds left [last year],” Irving said. “It seemed like anything we did just wasn't good enough. This year we're getting the bounces so far
“Any way we can score to win; that's all we really want right now. I've had 58 points in a season and lose in the first round. Just to be here is the best feeling.”