ROSELLE — It turned out to be quite a season-opening tussle on the ice between Summit and Montclair at Warinanco Rink.
In the end Jake Puskar delivered the eventual game-winning goal in the first period and Grant McCormack made 14 saves in his varsity debut as Summit, No. 8 in the Hockey Night In Boston New Jersey Preseason Top 10, was able to forge a 2-1 victory over Montclair.
It was a game that saw Summit’s swift group of forwards control much of the game with their while pouring 39 shots on goal but only managing to connect only twice.
Summit was also depleted by key injuries to standout goalie Nikita Pryymak and defensemen Matt Vigliotta and Olli Paasonen.
“We had some good spurts and we made some mistakes, too,” said Summit coach Keith Nixon, who guided the Hilltoppers to a 24-2-2 record, the McInnis Cup and the NJSIAA Public C championship last season. “When you are able to generate 39 shots, you’d like to get a few more goals, but we were able to stay with it and get the win.”
Summit (1-0), which defeated Montclair (0-1) in both meetings last season (5-0 and 3-1) put the pedal to the offensive floor in a whirlwind first period, which saw the Hilltoppers throw 23 shots at Montclair junior goalie Lucas Podvey (37 saves).
The Hilltoppers’ puck movement was quick and on tape for most of the first 15 minutes, and it was sophomore forward Greg Spitznagel who opened the scoring when he whipped in an off-wing rebound of a shot by Luc Radice 3:09 into the period for a 1-0 lead.
“We have some work to do but it was still a good win,” Puskar said. “We really came out strong in the first and had a lot of chances, and that’s what we wanted to do, but their goalie played really well. We feel like we have a good offensive group and that we’ll be able to score. But being in a tight game like this and winning always helps a team.”
After Podvey stopped a pair of shots on a Summit flurry in front, Puskar darted in a lifted a rebound over the prone Montclair goalie to extend the lead to 2-0 with 9:23 left in the first. Charlie Collins and Chris Magovern assisted on the tally.
Radice and his fellow forwards were well aware of their job to get the puck in deep often in order to keep some pressure off their defensemen.
“We knew as forwards that we’d have to play good hockey both ways and good defense,” Radice said. “We got the puck out fast to get our offense going and we knew that puck possession was important to give our D a rest. Montclair had trouble containing us.”
The Mounties hung in during the first period behind Podvey before they were able to regain their legs and composure during the second period.
“Podvey had a great, great game,” said Montclair coach Mark Janifer. “Summit is strong, fast and skilled and we knew it would be a tough game. I think we were a little shell-shocked in the first period and they had us running around at times, but we were able to settle down and compete more.”
Summit earned the game’s first power play 2:40 into the second but was unable to extend the lead to three goals as Podvey made three brilliant saves and defensemen Will Schiffenhaus, Harry Bylin, Brandon Silver and Jared Topf were sturdy during the advantage.
Montclair gained momentum after denying Summit on the man-advantage and cut the deficit to 2-1 when Mark Rechan scored on the power play off assists from Eamonn Thall and Bylin.
The third period was played at a fast pace by both clubs – Summit skating to regain that two-goal lead again while Montclair was going hard for the equalizer.
The Mounties had chances, the most enticing coming with just under four minutes left when they had a five-on-three advantage for two minutes. But McCormack stood tall, highlighted by a brilliant pad save on a shot by Rechan and Summit was able to extinguish the penalties.
“We wanted to make more out of that five-on-three and tie it up, but they played great defense,” said Janifer. “I think their depth overall showed. We’ve got a pretty young team, but we competed, and Will Schiffenhaus really had a great game for us, too. I know the effort will always be there for us.”
Summit continued to disrupt Montclair’s effort to pull Podvey, who was never able to skate to the bench for the extra-attacker over the final minute.
Summit outshot Montclair 39-15.
Despite the close outcome, Radice and his teammates are prepared for another winter run.
“We’re really excited and want to do something special again this year,” he said. “Winning a state championship was a super experience last season but we are hungry for more. We want to get another one and this first win was big for McCormack in goal to get his confidence going. It’s a long season and we are going to need him to play well. This was a big first step for him and the team.”
Written by Paul Bruno/@PaulBrunoHS
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