ROSELLE, NJ — Deep in the second period of the Union County Championships, Charlie Collins’ skate blade broke. Fortunately, his teammates had his back — and an extra pair of skates.
Moments after switching skates with backup goaltender, Michael Bonomo, Collins’ delivered an all-too important insurance goal on the power play with 8:35 remaining in regulation, while freshman forward-turned-goaltender Grant McCormack turned aside all 21 shots he faced taking home tournament MVP honors, as Summit recaptured the Union County Cup with a 3-0 victory over Westfield at Warinanco Rink in Roselle.
“My blade broke shortly into the second period so I had to stay focused through all the chaos trying to keep my mind on the game while I got new gear,” Collins said. “We just knew we had to get shots on net. They have a great goalie so we peppered him with shots. Thankfully, one got through.”
“It was about a half hour of drama,” Summit coach Keith Nixon said. “He finally gets a pair of skates on, he goes out on the power play and scores. That’s just Charlie being Charlie.”
“Thank you Bonomo for sacrificing your skates!” Collins said with a laugh. “There was a lot going on in this game so it felt nice to score one.”
Jake Puskar opened the scoring for Summit four minutes into the game before setting up Collins on the power play in the rematch of the 2018 Union Cup Final. Luc Radice iced it with his empty-net goal with 2:50 left and the celebration was on for Summit, which took back the county title with its seventh championship in the 11-year history of the Union Cup.
“Forget about last year — they beat us last year in this game — but we came out flying in this one, got pucks deep, kept pucks in their zone and put one in the back of the net early,” said Puskar, whose highlight reel goal put the Hilltoppers out in front, 1-0, at 11:00 of the first. “We had a ton of chances, kept pouring ’em on (Westfield goalie C.J.) Duffy — he played great — but we kept it going and found a couple more. Union County Champs! It feels great. Last year was the worst feeling ever, losing to Westfield. This year, we came back out on top.”
Duffy did all he could for Westfield, almost single-handedly stifling Summit on several power play opportunities to keep the game at 1-0 for two-and-a-half periods.
“We had some bad bounces and didn’t finish when we could have,” Duffy, who stood tall with 18 saves, said. “We had a few breakdowns and they’re a good team. They’ve got good enough players that if we have mental lapses they’re going to capitalize.
“The game was in reach for us 100 percent,” Duffy said. “Even late in the third period we had chances. This Westfield team is extremely resilient. I don’t think we’re ever out of a battle so I thought we were in reach the entire game. We never held our heads down so I’m proud of these guys. We’ll see ’em again.”
When incumbent Nikita Pryymak, who guided Summit to the its second state title in school history last season, went down with an injury, McCormack stepped up admirably in between the pipes for the Hilltoppers.
“He’s not a goalie — he played one year of goalie when he was a peewee,” Nixon said. “He’s a forward on his AA team, but he’s worked hard all season long, gotten better, and the guys know they need to protect him a little bit. We have a lot of offense — and we’re getting healthier — that takes a little bit of pressure off him, but today he played great and deserved MVP.”
“The kid is unreal,” Collins said of his freshman netminder. “This is his first year truly playing goalie and he stood on his head out there. He gives us a lot of confidence going into real playoffs. It’s a good confidence boost.”
Puskar’s first-period goal stood for over two periods of play — 32:25 to be exact — until Collins provided the big insurance goal with his new skates 6:25 into the third. In a game featuring a bevy of open-ice, bone-crunching hits at center ice in transition, Westfield remained in striking distance the entire tilt.
“They’re a tough team to play — they definitely have some guys that can play those roles,” Summit’s Greg Spitznagel, who was whistled for high-sticking before coming back and drawing the cross-checking call which led to Collins’ power-play goal 1:02 later in the third, said. “Luckily we were able to get the win here today. There are some good teams coming up we’re going to have to play. We definitely need to remain physical each and every game — looking forward to it.”
Spitznagel and Collins set up Radice for the empty-netter to to ice it for Summit, which improves to 15-5-1. The Hilltoppers, which were also without Tom Pryymak, are 8-2-1 over its last 11 games.
Westfield is 13-5-3. After an eight-game winning streak which stretched from Dec. 19 to Jan. 23, the Blue Devils have gone 3-3 since.
“It was a back-and-forth game, we certainly had our opportunities especially early in the game with a couple of power plays. We just couldn’t find the back of the net,” Westfield coach Joe Bertucci said. “We were unable getting pucks to Grade-A opportunities. It was just one of those days we couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Summit, the top seed in the McInnis Cup, awaits the winner of Montclair-Livingston, in the tournament semifinals.
Westfield, the third-seed, will take on second-seeded Montclair Kimberley Academy on Feb. 13 at Clary Anderson Arena in Montclair. The puck drops at 7:45 p.m.
The McInnis Cup Final is set for Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. at Codey Arena in West Orange.
“It’s tremendous,” Nixon continued. “We were really disappointed last year when we didn’t win it. So coming into this year, we wanted to take care of that. We’ve been to the finals 10 years in a row and we feel it’s our trophy to have.”
UNION COUNTY CUP CHAMPIONS
2019-Summit GAME STORY
2018-Westfield GAME STORY
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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