ROSELLE, NJ - Like the game's ice conditions -- which were driven by temperatures that peaked at near 80 degrees during the day -- the Summit High School Boys Varsity Ice Hockey Team was, compared to the Hilltoppers' aspirational level, relatively sub-par in their NJSIAA Public C State Tournament opener versus Cranford at the Warinanco Skating Center.
In fact, mirroring the mirror pond that greeted them -- post-Zamboni, between the first and second periods -- and which caused them and their opponent to, literally, sit back and watch the ice surface struggle to 'set', the Maroon and White's infrastructure -- like the rink's ice plant itself -- had to grind just to get the job done.
But, in a line lifted from page one of 'Sports' Most Over-Used Clichés, Volume 1', "good teams find a way to win even when they are not playing their best" and such was the case as the number-one seeded Hilltoppers cranked out a 4-2 victory over the 16th-seeded Cougars and advanced to the tournament quarterfinals.
There, Summit will face the winner of the eighth-seed Lakeland / ninth-seed West Morris match-up. The quarterfinal will be held February 25 at the Union Sports Arena with the puck dropping at 8:15 p.m.
Sophomore Jake Puskar had a goal and two assists, and senior goaltender Wilson Lees made 17 saves as the Hilltoppers improved their season record to 21-2-2.
Summit's Greg Spitznagel opened the scoring at the 7:34 mark of the first period, the freshman smacking home a rebound of a shot from classmate defenseman Matt Vigliotta who had taken a pass from senior captain Will Vitton.
The Hilltopper lead lasted just a skosh over two minutes as Cranford's Ryan Malko scored, but Summit got another 'oh brother' goal when Jake Puskar set up senior captain Johnny Puskar, who point shot sailed into the top left corner of the net less than two minutes after the Cougars' tally.
Shots on goal for the first period favored Summit, 12-7.
After a 40-minute delay for the ice to set properly, the second period got underway and Junior Luc Radice, who got the second assist on Summit's second goal, gave the Hilltoppers a two-goal lead at the 13;50 mark of the stanza blasting home a one-timer from the slot. The assists went to Jake Puskar and freshman Aidan Wiseman.
Despite firing 14 shots on target -- to Cranford's seven -- in the middle frame, the Hilltoppers were unable to get another puck past the Cougars' Harry Devenney, and, with just over three minutes left in the second, Cranford scored to make it 3-2.
Summit owned a 12-3 shot advantage in the third period, and finally broke through for the insurance goal when Wiseman, skated over the blue line with three defenders on him, then skittered a pass to Jake Puskar streaking in from the left side. The sophomore rifled a sharp-angle shot top left at the 4:30 mark.
Shots on goal for the contest were decidedly in Summit's favor, 38-17.