NEWARK, NJ - The NJSIAA Public C State Title now resides in the Hilltop City, after the Summit High School Boys Varsity Hockey Team capped a magical season with a 3-0 Championship game victory over Chatham at the Prudential Center.
Senior captain Will Vitton, playing his final prep hockey game, cloaked himself in Maroon and White glory by scoring a first-period goal that held up as the game- and crown-winner.
Vitton's goal stood up thanks to a heroic effort in front of the hero of the evening, sophomore goaltender Nikita Pryymak who, despite dealing with more traffic in front of him than a control tower operator at JFK, earned himself a place in Hilltopper lore by stopping all 32 shots directed his way.
Pryymak's shutout was enabled by a super-human effort by every Hilltoppers skater, but most assuredly his defense, which got in every passing lane while tossing and contorting their bodies in every which direction to easily block as many shots as their goaltender stoned.
In a true role reversal, Summit yielded the majority of puck possession and offensive zone time -- game elements they normally dominate -- to the Cougars, but rode two opening period-goals in quick succession and an empty-netter -- to go along with the Herculean defensive effort -- to get the ultimate 'W'.
Vitton and freshman Greg Spitznagel scored less than three minutes apart in the first, with the freshman phenom's 20th goal of the year with 53 seconds left into a by-then vacated Cougar net providing the extra layer of security and also serving to cue the 07901 pandemonium.
After a first-period where Chatham did most of the door-knocking, it was the Hilltoppers that kicked the portal in, as senior captain Johnny Puskar skated over the blueline on the right boards and rifled a puck on goal that Cougars goalie Zachary Pendergrast stopped but spilled out to the edge of the crease. The biscuit came out a platter to an onrushing Vitton who essentially one-handed the disc into a half-empty net at the 10:26 mark to make it 1-0 Summit.
To say the goal came against the run of play would be Captain Obvious-worthy but 130 seconds later -- after a crafty bit of skill by Spitznagel -- the Hilltoppers had doubled their lead when the big forward picked up a loose puck behind the goal, feinted like he was going to come around the right side of the cage only to swivel and scoot out the other side, the nifty move leaving Pendergrast hugging the right post as Sptznagel deposited the puck into the net just inside the left iron.
Down 2-0 at the end of the first despite winning the territorial battle -- Chatham had nine shots to Summit's five -- the Cougars must have at least been comforted to know there were still 30 minutes of hockey to play while Summit must've felt like the 'cat burglars' that they were.
If the team in blue felt hard done by and a bit frustrated after that stanza, they must've felt downright exasperated after a second period that saw them set-up shop for protracted periods in the Hilltopper end, have two Power Plays, and fire 14 shots on goal to Summit's one but still be left with a big goose egg. Pryymak was stopping everything and allowing no second-chance opportunities, and the Hilltoppers -- while going all full Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman 'Rope-A-Dope' -- came out of the period with their two-goal cushion intact.
While third-period shots were still lopsided at 9-2 in favor of the Cougars -- for a game total of 32-8 in favor of Chatham --, Summit was in a much better place as the high majority of their opponents' zone time did not equate to many -- if any -- ultra-high quality scoring chances. After getting managed in the second frame, Summit managed the game in the third, and they also had an extra advantage in the form of the clock, which became they became better and better friends with the more it ticked down.
As the minutes went from 10 to six to two, it was looking more and more like the bend but never break Hilltoppers were headed for the hardware. That premise became a certainty when Spitznagel hit the middle of an empty net at the 14:07 mark, which gave the massive quota of Hilltopper Nation in attendance nearly a full-minute's time to go absolutely bonkers.
Saying his team's accomplishment was simply "tremendous," Summit Head Coach Keith Nixon acknowledged that his team's hold the fort effort was not by design but more of "how the game came to us," adding, "Chatham did a good job possessing the puck and got some momentum and we backed off a bit. I told our team before the third period that they were 15 minutes from realizing a dream, a feeling I promised them they would never forget, and that whatever we had to do to get there was worth it."
Of his goaltender -- who hasn't allowed a goal in a month and for over 208-plus minutes of hockey -- Nixon said, "He is just so locked in, allowing no rebounds, and always in position. He stopped the puck all night long and everyone in front of him was fully-committed and 'sold out' to make a play."
The NJSIAA Public C Champion Summit High School Boys Varsity Ice Hockey Team finished their season with a record of 24-2-2.