By Dan Guttenplan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — One gets the feeling the Newburyport and Beverly hockey teams will see each other again this season.
For now, two of the top teams in Division 2 North will have to settle for a scoreless tie. The Clippers (5-1-4 overall, 5-0-1 CAL) last night served as the first team this season to come out of a game against Beverly (9-0-0 overall) with a point.
The nonleague foes played 45 minutes of fast-paced, physical hockey at the Graf Rink, only to leave fans burning for another chance to see the teams square off again in the state tournament.
The goaltending was the story. Newburyport goaltender Alex Buckley continued his standout season, turning away 21 shots, including several from point-blank range from Beverly's top scoring cousins Andrew and Connor Irving.
If a goalie in Division 2 North has played better than Buckley so far this season, it's Beverly's Tim Birarelli. The 6-foot-2 netminder stopped 13 shots, and has now only allowed only eight goals in 10 games. Buckley has allowed 11 in 10 games.
"I thought that was a classic high school hockey game," Newburyport coach Paul Yameen said. "It was two good skating teams, very physical. Both teams had opportunities. You saw two good goalies out there."
It was the rare physical game that did not include many whistles from the referees. The teams had one instance of matching minors in the entire game, and the rest was played penalty-free. Beverly outplayed the Clippers in the final period, holding an 8-1 advantage in shots. However, both teams saw shots hit the pipe during the game. Connor Irving drilled the top crossbar in the second period from close range, and Newburyport's Ben Ventura hit the right post on a back-handed shot in the third.
"I don't think either team felt bad about that result," Beverly coach Bob Gilligan said. "I enjoy this type of hockey. It should be played like this. Give them credit, Newburyport is a tough team. It seemed like a tournament game. We hate to tie, but it was a very hard, very physical game."
Newburyport has been at its best this season against nonleague foes. The Clippers went 0-1-1 offically at the Cape Cod Freeze Out against Divison 1 foes Braintree and Springfield Cathedral, however they beat Braintree in a shootout to advance to the final. They have since logged ties against Franklin (3-3-2 overall) and Beverly, two of the top teams in Division 2.
The one potential area of concern for the Clippers has been their struggle to score goals. They have scored four goals in their four nonleague games. The team's leader in points through 10 games in defenseman Connor Wile, who has nine assists, but has not scored a goal. The Clippers do not have a player with double-digit points. By comparison, Beverly's Irving cousins have combined for 49 points.
"We try to be too pretty sometimes," Yameen said. "We turned the puck over in our offensive end too many times with the toe-dragging and drop passes. We have to put the puck on the net. We're working on it."