SUMMIT, NJ — Crisp, cold air, smooth ice and some sun have been the environs of hockey for ages.
The Gov. Livingston/New Providence hockey team was fortunate enough to experience those circumstances on Sunday when they skated against perennial Union County and state power Summit at the outdoor Beacon Hill Club ice rink. It was a great uniform match-up with both teams wearing alternatives for the inaugural "The George Bell Classic" outdoor event.
Even better was the outcome, as Matt Darata scored two goals, Brady Silverman and Brian Kramer collected three assists apiece, and Shane Cook turned aside 29 shots to send Gov. Livingston to an impressive 4-1 victory over Summit.
“We told the players on Saturday night to get a good night’s sleep and wake up early,” Gov. Livingston coach Michael Criscitello said, referring to the game’s 9:30 a.m. faceoff. “I think because it was in an outdoor environment it was going to be just like waking up early and going out to play pond hockey all day. The players from both teams had so much fun, and it was a really special experience for all the coaches.”
Aside from the pregame jitters, adjusting to the sunlight, eye black, and some shadows, the Highlanders acquitted themselves just fine as they opened a 2-0 lead after the initial 15 minutes behind goals by Darata and Jackson Benward.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start,” said Criscitello, “especially in a game like this when everyone is caught up in the moment and atmosphere. It would be pretty easy to get overwhelmed by that stage, but we didn’t. We jumped to the 2-0 leadand it was a little breather for us.”
After that, it was skating hard, enjoying the outdoor atmosphere of a true winter classic, and holding and building on that advantage.
“You could see it on their faces that they were really enjoying this game,” Criscitello said. “Everything about it was a special, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Once we got on the ice and took in the surroundings we were able to focus on the game.
"It was very bright for everyone, and they all had the eye-black on, and needed it, said Criscitello. "I think the goalies had a tougher time adjusting with the sunlight and shadows in tracking pucks, but Shane played another phenomenal game for us. It was a little cold, but the weather couldn’t have been better.”
Summit cut the deficit to 2-1 in the second period on a goal by Daniel Flaim, but that was as close as the Hilltoppers would get.
In the third Darata scored his second goal from Brian Kramer and Silverman for a 2-1 lead before Brandon Cuccaro netted a power play tally from Kramer and Drew Skotarczak to make it 4-1.
“This was also a program win for us,” said Criscitello. “We have never beaten Summit in my tenure here and the last time Gov. Livingston beat them was in the 2008-2009 season. Summit is a historically outstanding program, especially the past four years, and they’ve always seemed to beat us in the Union County Tournament in recent years as well. We could never get by them, so this is a huge step for our program winning today.”
"It was absolutely incredible to play in that outdoor game," said senior Drew Skotarczak, "couldn’t picture a better setting and the weather couldn’t have been better. I’ll never forget this experience, it’s definitely one of if not the most fun game I have ever played. What made it even more exciting was playing against a great team in Summit. If you had told me three years ago we’d beat Summit I would’ve thought you were crazy. I really just think it shows how far this program has come in the past handful of years. It’s incredible to be playing these top teams and really be showing what we can do.”
The Highlanders improved to 9-1 with the victory, rebounding from last week’s 3-2 loss to Westfield.
But the chips will all be pushed to the middle of the hockey table tomorrow for the Highlanders, who will face-off against Oratory Prep at 8:30 at Warinanco Rink in Roselle. On the line is most likely the top seed for the Kelly Cup (seeding meeting on Tuesday).
“Winning today against Summit was great but tomorrow is our biggest game of the year,” Criscitello observed. “We are both undefeated in Kelly play and whoever wins should decide who gets the No. 1 seed. So, it’s a huge game for us. We told our players after the game with Summit today that tomorrow is the biggest game of the year. They all know it.”
With regard Oratory, Skotarczak agrees, "it’s what we’ve been waiting for all year. We knew we had this week of games where we would really be able to prove ourselves against teams like Livingston, Westfield, and Summit, but now we can reel it back in and focus on the Kelly Cup. With States not happening this year, this really is our only playoffs, and we can’t wait to finally step onto the ice against this Kelly team we haven’t played yet.”