WEST ORANGE — The Hilltoppers are one stride away from reaching the Summit.
Charlie Collins connected on a second period power play goal, Nikita Pryymak stopped 16 shots and Jake Puskar sealed it with an empty goal to send Summit, No. 4 in the Hockey Night in Boston New Jersey Top 10, to a 2-0 victory over Glen Rock in the semifinal round of the NJSIAA Public C Tournament at Codey Arena.
Top-seeded Summit (23-2-2) advances into Monday’s championship for the first time in six years and will face-off against third-seeded Chatham at the Prudential Center in Newark. The Hilltoppers will seek their first state title since 2012, the last one coming with a 2-1 overtime victory over Tenafly in the Public B championship game. Summit’s only other final appearance came in 2000, a 6-3 loss to Bayonne.
Fourth-seeded Glen Rock, which defeated Summit, 3-1, in last year’s Public B quarterfinal round, was seeking its second straight crown and third consecutive final appearance. Glen Rock (14-9-2) rolled to an 8-1 triumph over Wall in last year’s Public B championship. Glen Rock lost to Ramsey 5-1 in the 2016 Public B final.
Summit extended its unbeaten streak to 11 games (9-0-2) and has yielded just nine goals in that span while scoring 41 at the other end of the ice. Their last defeat came against Westfield in the Union County Cup final, 3-2, on Jan. 20. Summit’s only other loss this season came at the hands of No. 3 and Public B finalist Randolph, 2-1, on Jan. 5.
Collins, a junior forward, came through with the eventual winning goal when he wired a low shot past Glen Rock senior goalie Ryan McAuley (17 saves) at 3:15 of the second period on assists from Greg Spitznagel and Aiden Wiseman. The tally came on Summit’s lone power play of the contest – and the Hilltoppers have now connected on six of their last seven power-play opportunities over the past four games.
“That goal started us off,” said Collins, who has 15 points on five goals and 10 assists. “We knew getting the first goal in the game was going to be huge and could be the biggest one. We just focused on playing our game. That’s what the coaches just kept telling us, play your game. Spitznagel got the puck to me at the blue line and it got through. I guess I was lucky.”
Summit outshot Glen Rock, 7-5, in a fairly even first period, but the Hilltoppers ramped up their forecheck in the second, wheeling with speed into the Glen Rock corners and jumping on their defensemen quickly – especially the line of Spitznagel, Will Vitton and Tom Pryymak – disrupting the Panthers’ breakouts.
Still, McAuley and his teammates held the deficit to 1-0 after two periods, with Summit holding just an 11-10 shot advantage after 30 minutes.
With its season on the line, Glen Rock delivered a robust and valiant effort in the third.
“We knew they would come out hard in the third period,” said Nikita Pryymak, a sophomore. “We just had to keep our cool and stay in the game. Charlie’s (Collins) goal was huge giving us the lead in the first and it allowed me to relax a little bit. It’s great now to be able to get to the Prudential Center next week. We just have to go out and play our best hockey for one more game.”
Glen Rock, which limited Summit to a season-low 18 shots, made a big push for much of the third, throwing six high-quality shots at Pryymak, who denied point blank shots from Eddie Corvelli twice, a redirect off the stick of David Hymovitch and a close-in attempt by Patrick Smith.
“We told our guys going into the third that they’re down just one goal and we’ve been here before,” said Glen Rock coach Anthony Yelovich, who guided the club to its first state title in his debut season last year. “The bottom line was that it was decided by a power play goal, and Summit did a great job. We had a great push in the third and gave it all we had. Summit did a good job boxing us out. You have to tip your hat to Summit. They’re a great team.”
Summit coach Keith Nixon, who improved his career log to 328-233-50, made some defensive zone adjustments in the third and was confident his club could withstand Glen Rock’s final charge.
“We made sure to protect the middle,” Nixon said. “Glen Rock is very good, and they came at us in the third. We had to stay focused on our keys and do what we needed to do. We pressed them and had a good forecheck going for the first two periods, and overall, we did a good job executing.
“Eighteen shots tonight is the lowest total we’ve had all year. Glen Rock beat us last year in the playoffs, but revenge wasn’t a factor. This was just two good teams playing each other for 45 minutes. Getting back to The Rock is a great feeling.”
Glen Rock pulled McAuley for the extra attacker with 1:22 left but Puskar gathered a loose puck in his end and sent it the length of the ice for an empty net goal with 51.9 seconds showing to close the scoring. It was the sophomore’s 11th goal this winter.
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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