WEST ORANGE, NJ - Like Bruce Springsteen before launching into Born to Run, the Summit High School Boys Varsity Hockey Team is about to play an encore at the Prudential Center.
The fourth-seeded Hilltoppers are headed back to 'The Rock' on March 4 -- and back to the NJSIAA Public C Final -- after overwhelming ninth-seeded Ramsay 8-1 at the Richard J. Codey Arena. For Summit it is both a repeat trip to the big stage and an opportunity to repeat, as the Maroon and White will defend the 2018 Public C Title that it captured almost one year ago to the date of their now booked return engagement.
Number four-seeded Summit will face the winner of the other semifinal, which will pit number-seven seed Northern Highlands versus sixth-seeded Chatham on February 28.
Seniors Davis Strabley and Luc Radice, along with sophomore Greg Spitznagel, each had a pair of goals, and sophomore netminder Nikita Pryymak stopped 20 of 21 shots directed his way. The emphatic victory lifts the Hilltoppers' season record to 19-6-1.
Summit got off to a flying start when senior alternate captain Charlie Collins found himself alone in front and banged home a pass from junior Tom Pryymak to give the boys from the 07901 the lead just 41 seconds into the game. The Hilltopper lead lasted less than three minutes, however, as Ramsay capitalized on Summit mistake in the neutral zone and took off on a 2-on-1 break. Nikita Pryymak stopped the initial shot but the Rams' Tyler Botta scored on the rebound at the 11:20 mark.
Undaunted, The 'Top came right back 22 seconds later to take the lead for good when -- on a 2-on-1 break of their own -- junior defenseman Spencer Myers one-timed a pass from Radice past Ramsay goaltender Dane Beltramini for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Radice got the game's next two goals, one with 4:14 left in the first and the another 49 seconds into the second period, the latter of which seemed to be the metaphorical dagger. On that play, the Summit alternate captain fired from the top of the left face-off circle, a shot Beltramini got his trapper on but the momentum of his arm's motion when catching the puck allowed the vulcanized disc to squirt out of his catching glove and trickle across the goal line.
After the soul-crushing score, Summit dropped the hammer and finished the job.
Collins fed Spitznagel at 11:30 and it was 5-1, then freshman Chris Magovern and Tom Pryymak assisted on Strabley's first of the game -- which came on the power play -- and the lead ballooned to five, at 6-1, with 6:58 remaining in the second period.
Spitznagel lasered one home from the right wing at 2:12 -- with Tom Pryymak earning his third assist of the night -- and, stunningly, Summit was up 7-1 as the stanza came to a close.
A frustrated Ramsay squad took several penalties in the third period, and the game's final goal -- a power play tally by Strabley, assisted by senior Remi Vidal at the 10:01 mark -- was a direct result of that dynamic. Fortunately, Summit kept its cool and calmly let the clock wind down and the scoreboard do its talking.
Shots on goal reflected the contest's outcome, favoring Summit 38-21.
"We were very focused on what we needed to do tonight," said Summit Head Coach Keith Nixon. "Possess and move the puck. Make smart, simple decisions and not try to make individual plays. The experience of being through this before was very important."
On the not-always-so-smooth trip back to the Championship game, Nixon said, "Last year we were on a freshly-paved superhighway, this year we've been driving on cobblestones. We have had to fight for everything and the boys found a way to battle through the adversity."
The NJSIAA Public C Final will take place at The Prudential Center in Newark on March 4. Game time is set for 4:15 p.m. TAPinto Summit will provide ticket information when it is made available.