ELIZABETH, N.J. - Hockey teams live or die in the third period. It takes a veteran team to truly understand the dynamics and importance of the final minutes of a game. The Summit ice hockey squad is the exception.
The young team with only one senior has learned how to thrive in the final 15 minutes of games. It was even more apparent when the Hilltoppers scored two goals in one minute span of the final four to tie Bridgewater-Raritan 2-2 on Tuesday at Warinanco Skating Center.
"We're not even getting nervous in the third periods anymore," Summit head coach Keith Nixon said. "Every third period is a one-goal game, a tie game. We just don't ever seem to be out of anything."
Down by two goals with four minutes to play, sophomore Chris Zanelli found a whole in Bridgewater's goalie Bobby Esposito. Zanelli took a pass from Liam McLaughlin that found the back of the net to cut the lead in half.
Less than a minute later, Summit's Whit Cummings cleaned up a rebound in front of the goal to tie the game a 2-2.
"I thought it was a great game," Zanelli said. "Both teams came out strong. They came out and scored a couple of goals on us. We came right back. It just seems to be our thing right now to score a couple of late period goals and make the game exciting."
Tuesday's tie was the second game in the past week that Summit has faced a two-goal deficit in the last five minutes of the game. Last Wednesday, the Hilltoppers scored three goals in the last minute to beat Westfield 5-4.
The defending state champions improve to 9-2-2 on the year, with seven games to play before county and state tournaments begin in the middle of February.
Nixon said the poise and confidence the team is showing now will play a factor in their post-season tournament action.
"Its good for a young team," Nixon said. "They're learning that they're never out of it. They're learning what they need to do. Come playoff time, if your confident and your not going to be nervous late in the game, its important. Its part of the maturing process. When you get in the state tournament, your going to get in some games that can be pretty stressful. If your used to it, your better off."
The Hilltoppers and Panthers played to a score period and a half before Alec Caseiro scored with 7:22 to play in the second period.
Almost a full period later, Tyler Darby scored on a pass from Ian Anderson to give Bridgewater-Raritan a 2-0 lead, before seeing the lead diminish in the final minutes.
"We're a young team, but a lot of these kids have played varsity last year or the year before," Zanelli said. "We've had a decent amount of experience. We know what it takes to get the job done, we just stay composed and don't let anything phase us."
The Hilltoppers return to the ice on Saturday when they face Chatham at Union Sports Arena. Face-off is scheduled for 6:20 p.m.