BEVERLY — What do you call a team where nearly one-third of its roster is made up of eighth graders, skates just two lines and four defensemen, and is forced to play without its top two centers in an important league showdown?
If you’re talking about the Swampscott hockey team, then the words gritty, resilient, structurally sound and opportunistic offensively come immediately to mind.
The Big Blue got a fluky goal from senior right wing Jackson Bartram with under five minutes to go that proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 triumph over Beverly Saturday at Bourque Arena.
Bartram dumped the puck in at the blue line so his team could make a line change, but the puck hit the Beverly’s goalie’s stick at an odd angle and ricocheted into the Panthers’ net, snapping a 2-2 tie. From there, the Big Blue (7-6-1) locked it down defensively in front of sophomore goalie Dom Pappalardo (24 saves), allowing just one shot on net after the Panthers pulled their own keeper with 1:48 to play.
Swampscott, playing without injured centers Derek Faia and Greg Balchenkoff, now has a one-game lead over Beverly for first place in the Northeastern Conference Lynch Division standings.
“Big, big win for us,” said Swampscott head coach Gino Faia after picking up his 201st career victory. “I have to give the guys credit for coming up with another gutty performance. We got back to what’s been successful for us: playing defense-first team hockey, mucking up and blocking shots.”
It was a difficult setback for Beverly (7-7-1) on a day it was honoring its two seniors, captains Bobby Massa and Ethan Haight. The Orange-and-Black held the advantage in shots on goal and certainly had more depth than the visitors, but they were unable to capitalize on their offensive zone time by either missing the net with shots completely or shooting them up high, where Pappalardo seems to be at his best.
“Frustrating,” is how head coach Andy Scott described it. His Panthers must realistically win three of their last five regular season games to gain entry into the Division 1 state tournament; that slate includes Danvers (twice), Peabody-Saugus, Somerville and Marblehead.
“We needed to put some better shifts together, hit our target when we had all that offensive zone time, and make some better stops defensively,” Scott added. “Carrying the play and being where you want to be (offensively) doesn’t matter if you don’t give yourself a chance by putting the puck on net. And we have to be a little bit hungrier in front of the net — I think they wanted it a little bit more than we did.”
Sophomore Logan Bowen had tied the game for Beverly, 2-2, six minutes into the final period after Haight threaded a pretty pass from behind the net to him out front for a one-timer. But Bartram’s unexpected tally, coming a little over five minutes later, broke that stalemate for good.
“We’ve been able to play and have confidence in these tight, low scoring games this season,” said Faia, whose squad has played six overtime games and taken part in nine 1-goal contests. “In the past few years, I’m not sure we would’ve been able to do this. But this season, the boys have confidence and are finding ways to win these type of games.”
Frankie Pappalardo, normally a defenseman, stepped up in Balchenkoff’s absence to center the second line. His unit, including eighth grade left wing Beau Olivieri (“he did a nice job along the boards and with puck protection,” said Faia) and sophomore Ryan Frary on the right, acquitted themselves nicely all game.
Playing in just his third game of the season, Swampscott senior Kody Langevain scored for the first time with just 12.9 seconds left in the middle stanza to give his team a 2-1 lead. Off an odd man rush, Langevain grabbed a drop pass in the slot, found an open spot over the glove hand of Beverly netminder PJ Redman (14 saves) and snapped it home.
The Big Blue drew first blood six minutes in after Bartram fed Will Roddy with an up-ice pass and the senior captain skated it through the neutral zone into enemy territory before wristing home a 25-footer.
Beverly tied it with one second to go on the first stanza’s only point play. A rebound shot squirted up through the high slot, where sophomore defenseman Nathan Wheeler let go a shot that went bar down through traffic and into the net for his first varsity goal.
Swampscott 3, Beverly 2
at Bourque Arena, Beverly
First period: S, Will Roddy (Jackson Bartram), 6:03; B, Nathan Wheeler (Connor Wallace, Ryan Everett), ppg, 10:12.
Second period: S, Kody Langevain (Roddy, Bartram), 14:49.
Third period: B, Logan Bowen (Ethan Haight), 6:10; S, Bartram (Quinn Hitchcock), 10:21;
Saves: S, Dom Pappalardo 24; B, PJ Redman 14.
Records: S, 7-6-3; B, 7-7-1.