WEST ORANGE, NJ - If the Livingston Boys Hockey Team required a reminder of just exactly who they were playing -- and the challenge that lies ahead -- in the McInnnis Cup Final, Summit's Greg Spitznagel was kind enough to remind them early.
The Hilltopper freshman scored 47 seconds in the game, a tone-setting tally that settled down the top-seeded Maroon and White. From there, Summit rode their special teams' contributions to earn a gritty 3-1 victory over the number-two seeded Lancers, bringing the McInnis Cup trophy back to the 07901 for the second consecutive year.
Spitznagel and sophomore Tom Pryymak scored Power Play goals in the second and third periods, respectively, and senior goaltender Wilson Lees stopped 23 out of 24 shots to lead the Hilltoppers, who improved to 20-2-2.
Summit began the game where it spent the majority of it -- in the Livingston zone. Getting pucks in deep, the Hilltoppers unleashed a solid forecheck, and that effort produced dividends virtually immediately, with senior captain Will Vitton's and Pryymak's industry and diligence putting the biscuit on Spitznagel's stick just outside the crease.
One move to his backhand and Spitznagel had half an open net to shoot at from four feet away, and Livingston's Matthew Delseni was helpless to do anything to prevent Summit from taking a 1-0 lead.
Despite having several more good looks over the remainder of a period in which they outshot the Lancers 10-9, the Hilltoppers were forced to settle for the one goal lead after one.
Summit made it 2-0 at the 12:17 mark of the second period when Spitznagel took a pass from classmate Aidan Wiseman and fired a one-timer past Delseni on the Power Play. The goal triggered a period of Maroon and White dominance with the likelihood that a third Summit goal -- which to most observers seemed imminent -- would cement the outcome.
Delseni and his Lancer teammates held the fort, however, an effort which included the Lancers' last line of defense making a big stop on, first, junior Luc Radice and, then, Vitton as they flashed in -- back-to-back -- on the doorstep.
The saves took on added significance when, with just 44 seconds to play in the second, Livingston cut Summit's lead in half. Taking advantage of some overly-ambitious puck pursuit, the Lancers broke down the ice on an odd-man rush and Jacob Fuhrman beat Lees. Adam Steiner got the assist and Livingston got the momentum as the second period came to a close.
Shots were even at the end of the second period at 18 apiece, as Summit wasn't converting its puck possession into pucks on target.
Leading by a single goal in the third period of a Cup Final, the Hilltoppers knew that they were one shot away from hockey heaven or purgatory with a ton of tension in between.
The Hilltoppers were given a huge opportunity to seal the deal when the Lancers were handed a major penalty for boarding with 8:10 left to go.
The puck did not leave the Livingston zone for virtually the entirety of the five-minute penalty. And, while it took 4:52 of the five minutes, Summit finally found the back of the net when Pryymak, operating on his off-wing, fired a low shot from the left face-off circle that Delseni got a piece of but, ultimately, could not stop. The assists went to junior alternate captain Greg Moller and Wiseman.
The goal came at the 3:18 mark but, in form that was emblematic of their effort on the day, Livingston fought like mad to the very end. Pulling Delseni for an extra attacker and then seeing Summit take a penalty, the Lancers had a two-man advantage over the final two minutes, but Lees and his penalty-killing 'mates -- who were diving to block shots -- held strong.
"We wanted to stick to what works -- getting pucks in deep and establishing our forecheck," said Summit Head Coach Keith Nixon. "Getting the first goal and getting it early was critical. It settled us down and sent a message "
As for surrendering the goal that set up the nervy final frame, Nixon said, "We got caught over-pursuing the puck and gave up a goal on an odd-man rush, but we made some adjustments between periods."
Summit has received the number-one seed in the NJSIAA Public C State Tournament and will begin their quest for a state championship when, on February 21 at 6:45 p.m., they face the winner of the 16th-seeded Cranford versus 17th-seeded Hopewell Valley game.
The Summit versus Cranford / Hopewell Valley game will be held at Warinanco Skating Center.