ROSELLE, NJ - Backstopped by a netminder whose natural position isn't even goalie, and getting an insurance goal from a player who wasn't even wearing his own skates when he scored, the Summit High School Boys Varsity Hockey Team defeated Westfield 3-0 at the Warinanco Skating Center to once again bring the Union County Tournament (UCT) trophy back to the 07901.
Junior Jake Puskar scored what proved to be the game-winning goal just four minutes into the game, and freshman goaltender Grant McCormack stopped all 21 shots he faced to earn the shutout -- and the game's Most Valuable Player Award.
Senior alternate captain Charlie Collins -- in a goal that spawned an on-ice celebration for the ages -- and classmate and fellow alternate captain Luc Radice had the insurance and 'the game's in the icebox' goals, respectively, as the Maroon and White -- wearing brand-new black jerseys for the occasion -- captured their seventh UCT title in the past ten years and avenged their defeat at the hands of the Blue Devils in the 2018 final.
Westfield had solid puck possession to open the game and, in one of Summit's first forays into the opposition's zone, scored the contest's opening and, ultimately, deciding goal. Puskar, collected the puck near the lower rim of the right face-off circle and, on his forehand, rifled a shot into the top left hand corner past Blue Devil goalie C.J. Duffy at the 11 minutes mark. The lone assist went to junior Spencer Myers and the Hilltoppers led, 1-0.
Summit successfully killed-off two Westfield man advantages with minimal threat, and the period ended with The 'Top having a 10-6 advantage in shots on goal despite being down a man for four of the 15 minutes.
A relatively even middle frame saw the best chances again fall to Summit, with Radice hitting the goal post from the left wing, but the period ended scoreless and the scoreboard unchanged. Shots on goal in the second period shaded Summit, 9-8, for a two-period total of 19-14.
Fans of both teams needed not be reminded that the next goal would likely have a major influence on the game's outcome and, while the game's pace had slowed decidedly, the high likelihood was that a mistake was going to yield the next marker.
After the Blue Devils took an ill-advised penalty, Summit went to work on the power play, the puck making its way to the right point and onto the stick of Collins. Shooting from the top of the face-off circle, Collins' wrist shot beat Duffy and then the senior captain beat a path toward the red line, all the while channeling his inner Dave 'Tiger' Williams, circa 1979-80, and 'riding his stick' while waving his right arm in the direction of his bench and the section of the rink that housed Hilltopper Nation.
The power play goal came at 8:35 and Summit led 2-0. It also came with Collins wearing a teammates' skates, as his own skate blade had broken earlier in the game and the replacements located didn't fit.
A two-goal lead in a hockey game with eight minutes to go could never be labeled safe, but the Hilltoppers made it feel that way until they metaphorically put both their hands on the trophy when Collins fed sophomore Greg Spitznagel who broke into the Blue Devils' zone on the right side. Cutting in towards goal, Spitznagel threw the puck across the crease to Radice, who was jetting in from the left wing. Radice shoveled the puck past Duffy with 2:50 left, and Summit had an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
Summit's two third-period goals came on their only shots credited on target in the stanza. Westfield had seven shots on goal over the final 15 minutes, giving both teams a game total of 21.
Of his goaltender McCormack, a converted forward who stepped into the goaltending breach when starter Nikita Pryymak suffered an injury before the onset of the season, Summit Head Coach Keith Nixon said, "He's awesome. He faced a lot of pressure tonight when it was 1-0 and kept us in the lead until we got our goals in the third period."
On bringing the trophy back to Summit, Nixon said, "It is tremendous. We were really disappointed last year, we made a couple of mistakes in that game and we wanted to make sure that didn't happen again. We believe it is our trophy to have."
Summit, now 15-5-1, has received the number-one seed in the McInnis Cup tournament and will be back on the Warinanco ice February 13 for a McInnis Cup semifinal versus the winner of fourth-seed Montclair and fifth-seeded Livingston. Face-off is set for 6:30 p.m.