ROSELLE, NJ – The Summit ice hockey team’s first-round state game reminded head coach Keith Nixon of a game 14 years.
Back in the 2000 state tournament, an inferior Nutley team took the Hilltoppers down to the wire before a late power play goal sent Summit into the second round.
Tuesday’s playoff game didn’t come down to any third period goals, but it also didn’t include any even-strength goals by the Hilltoppers. Instead, a shorthanded and power play goal lifted Summit to a 2-1 victory over Lakeland in the opening round of the state tournament at Warinanco Skating Center.
“Awful,” Nixon said. “Coming off the two big wins against Mendham and Westfield, we didn’t have energy. Our concentration clearly wasn’t there. We did not play any where the way we’re capable of playing…Hopefully it’s a wake up call.”
After a scoreless first period, Lakeland took advantage of Garrett McGowan’s aggressive play when Donny Mullin beat the Summit net-minder over his shoulder.
Summit responded midway through the period. On the penalty kill, Corey McManus and Brady Nelson slipped past Lakeland’s defensive pairing. In the offensive zone, McManus found Nelson who put it past the goaltender Jean Komjian to tie the game.
Following over 8 minutes of back and forth action, Summit was able to strike again, this time with a man advantage. Less than 10 seconds into the power play, Riley Flynn ripped a shot over Komjian’s left shoulder to put the Hilltoppers on top for good.
Lakeland had to back-to-back opportunities in the beginning of the third when they hit the post and missed an open net, however the Hilltoppers came together defensively in the final 10 minutes to secure their spot in the second round.
“We didn’t come out the way we wanted to,” Summit captain Liam McLaughlin said. “In the end, we got the win and that’s all that matters.”
Nixon said his team has to play a lot better in their next game if they want to reach their goal of a state title.
“Its kind of up to them to say, you know what, ‘We’re better than this and we can’t let this happen,” Nixon said. “Coming off of Saturday night, I didn’t think this was possible. Hopefully it’s a wake up call. We’ve been down this road before, not in a while though.”
The Hilltoppers will face the winner of Princeton/Nutley in the second round on Friday at Union Sports Arena.