NEWARK — With only eight shots on goal, Summit needed to make every one count.
Will Vitton broke the ice 10:26 into the game and Greg Spitznagel scored on a nifty wrap-around 2:11 later before the Hilltoppers added the icing on the cake with an empty-netter with 52.3 seconds remaining in regulation as top-seeded Summit, No. 4 in The Hockey Night in Boston Top 10, skated past third-seeded Chatham in the final of the NJSIAA Public C Tournament at Prudential Center in Newark.
Chatham outshot Summit, 32-8, but came up empty at every turn thanks to the play of sophomore Nikita Pryymak, who turned aside every shot he faced to turn in his third straight shutout in the tournament — and eighth this season — to backstop the Hilltoppers to its second state title in school history and first since 2012.
“It’s beyond words… everyone is going crazy… we’re so excited… it’s a once-in-a-lifetime,” an exhausted Pryymak, who put a halt to all 68 pucks that came his way in the playoffs, said in between breaths. “To know the whole season paid off and we came out on top — it’s a great feeling.
“I can’t even describe. We’re so excited — beyond excited — and we’re out here enjoying it,” Pryymak said. “Thanks to my teammates, I didn’t have to make too many crazy saves. I just stayed focused and stayed calm in all situations.”
After escaping with a 3-2 victory in its previous meeting with Chatham back on Dec. 29, Vitton knew the Cougars were going to come looking for redemption.
“It means everything,” Vitton, the team’s senior captain, said. “Coming into this year we knew we were so much more and the boys put in the extra effort, every day in practice coming in working… I just couldn’t ask for a better team.”
In the finals, Vitton showed the way beating Zachary Pendergrast off a fortuitous bounce after the Chatham goalie made the initial save on Johnny Puskar. Vitton swooped in and poked the rebound into a vacant cage to give Summit a lead it would not surrender.
“It was huge,” Vitton said of his 13th goal of the season. “It’s something you’ve never been a part of — the atmosphere was crazy– it’s about settling nerves early on and getting the boys going.”
“Honestly, I feel like I’ve gotten most of my goals like that, just getting in dirty areas,” Vitton said with a laugh. “I like getting down there. It was a lucky bounce. The goalie probably wishes he had that back, but I’m happy he didn’t so I’ll take it. Hopefully nobody has any footage on it when they ask me how I scored it but a goal is a goal and that’s kind of the mentality we’ve been going with.”
Still feeding off the energy from Vitton’s icebreaker, Spitznagel scored his first of two just 2:11 later to stake the Hilltoppers to a 2-0 lead.
“It definitely gave us motivation to keep it going,” Spitznagel said. “Just wanted to get on the forecheck. The puck bounced to me, luckily, and found a way to put it in. You’re not going to get a lot of chances against a good team so we had to bear down on them and put it in the net.
“It’s pretty indescribable,” the freshman said. “Honestly, (a state championship) was the goal coming in. We just grinded it out.”
Needing overtime to edge Tenafly, 2-1, in the 2012 NJSIAA title, Summit coach Keith Nixon was happy to win this one in regulation and had no problem playing disciplined, defensive hockey to win his second state title.
“We’ve been saying it all along, we’re a bend, don’t break defense,” Nixon said. “We knew we were going to have to grind this out and Nikita was going to be at the top of his game. The kid hasn’t given up a goal in four games and two periods — he hasn’t given up a goal since the first minute of the second period against Ridge (on Feb. 6) — that was a long time ago. He was outstanding.”
Despite throwing everything except the kitchen sink at the sophomore goalie, Chatham was unable to solve Pryymak.
“It was a hell of a season,” Chatham senior captain Tanner Acone said. “We all wanted to win this game. We outshot them. We dominated them. Just couldn’t get it by the goalie. 32-8 in shots — they had four shots the second two periods combined — we just couldn’t get it in the net.
“We came together as a family,” Acone said. “This was one of the best group of guys I’ve ever played with. I had the most fun of my life this year.”
Spitznagel, who also played in a game for his Bantam Major (AYBHL) Colonials team earlier in the day, scored his second of the game into an empty-net to cap Summit’s impressive season at 24-2-2.
Chatham’s promising season ends at 16-8 but coach Brendon Herr was thrilled with the way his team battled.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort. We threw everything at that goaltender,” Herr said. “He had a career night and credit to them after they got up two goals they played a shutdown game. We had some looks on the power play and made some nice plays but it was one of those nights nothing would fall.
“We were proud of where we got this year. I don’t think anyone counted us being in the final this year so that’s something they can take with them,” Herr said. “These players we have are committed to Chatham hockey. That’s why we’re here. We couldn’t be more proud. We ended up a little but short this year but hopefully we’ll be back next year.”
With six years separating his last state final appearance, Nixon knows just how hard it is to make it to “The Rock.”
“When you look at history, six years is a long time getting back to the state tournament. We’ve been here three times,” Nixon said. “That’s a lot more than most teams.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: The Hilltoppers of Summit celebrate the 2018 NJSIAA Public C Tournament Title at Prudential Center in Newark on March 5, 2018. (J.C. Hageny/HockeyClan)
Photos: (Tom Smith/TSPImages)
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