BOSTON – After years of coming up short, Beverly won its first state hockey title with an intense, physical 2-1 win over Medfield in the Division 2 boys final last night at TD Garden.
The game-winner came just more than two minutes into the third period as legs and sticks hacked at the puck before Connor Irving eventually put the puck in the back of the net.
“I have no idea what happened on my goal,” Irving said. “It wasn't intended to be a shot. I think it went off a kid's skate and went in.”
No title comes easy and Medfield played as close to flawless as it could. Beverly, which had averaged 30 shots in it's previous three playoff games, was held to just 16 by a Warrior defense that showed no fear and took the body when it could.
The unit, led by Matt Crowell and Will Murphy, collapsed in between the circles on the defensive end and forced Beverly to the outside.
“They stepped up at the blue line because they're defensemen didn't back up on us,” Irving said. “A couple of times I wanted to get going and I looked up and both their defensemen were stepped up. I couldn't go wide on them, and they back-checked really well.”
Beverly's speed, which torched Tewksbury for nine goals in the North final, was neutralized by a full-on defensive lockdown by the Warriors who made the Panthers work for every inch.
“It was a matter of our forwards doing a good job of back-checking,” Medfield coach Toby Carlow said. “A good team like them if you let them skate they're going to make you pay so we stayed up high in the neutral zone and slow them down before they can get moving.”
Eventually the Panthers broke through when Matt Hamor deflected home a shot to put Beverly ahead early in the second. While the largely pro-Beverly crowd celebrated the Warriors responded on the next shift when Justin Hirschfeld shoved home the equalizer less than 30 seconds later.
Hirschfeld buzzed around the sheet for the Warriors for all 45 minutes and made life difficult for the Beverly defense. For Beverly though, its ultimate defense was Tim Birarelli.
The junior goaltender turned aside 16 shots in the win and captained a defense that was able to contain and curtail the Warriors just enough.
“I have a really good communication with my defense where they can force them wide and force them to shoot too,” Birarelli said. “When they forced them to shoot from the outside it was easy for me.”
The loss marks the end of Hirschfeld's Medfield career that saw him help pilot the team in its first season in Division 2 to the brink of a state title.
“I just want to thank every one on my team for making my best year,” Hirschfeld said. “I'll never forget this season.”
In the moment, Carlow was disappointed, but he said that he could not have asked for a better year for the Warriors.
“Our goal is always to be here but you've got to work to get here,” Carlow said. “These guys did that and that is why it is a successful season. Sure, we came up short today, but it's a successful season because we got here and they did the work and they committed themselves to getting here.”
PLAYING FOR PETE: Under their cream and cocoa colored jerseys, and underneath their pads, the Beverly players wore red undershirts with the name “Frates” on the back. The shirts were a gift from, and to honor, Peter Frates.
Frates, a Beverly native and former captain of the Boston College baseball team, was diagnosed with ALS two years ago and helped to motivate the Panthers this season.
“Last year Pete came to talk to us and he's such an inspiration,” Irving said. “Pete's such a good guy and he's going through such a tough thing. I have the utmost respect for Pete. It was so cool to see him here.
“I wear the same Under Armour [undershirt] and it's really hot in this building so I threw [Pete's shirt] on in the third. So I'm going to give Pete all the credit on the third-period goal.”
The Panthers have felt and dealt with their share of adversity off the ice in recent years. Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan recently battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Birarelli's father is engaged in a battle with liver cancer.
For Birarelli to wear the ribbon-clad shirt given to the team by Frates had an extra personal meaning.
“It's definitely special with everything going in the community -- my dad, Mr. Frates, Coach Gilligan himself,” Birarelli said. “It's good to win it for them. All this hard work paid off.
“I think it's so special that we can play for these guys and we got the desired result that they wanted. Obviously, wearing Pete's shirt under my stuff tonight was special. When I knew putting it on that it would be a special night.”
Gilligan, who lives a few houses down from Frates said he and the team admired him for how he has battled the disease..
“Peter is fighting it really hard,” Gilligan said. “They really admire his courage and the strength to go forward.”