ROSELLE — Trevor Tanella wasn’t going to waste another scoring opportunity, and with the game on the blade of his stick late in the third period, he didn’t misfire a second time.
The sophomore defenseman bolted out of the penalty box – after being whistled two minutes earlier for hooking – and gathered a stretch pass from Andrew Johnson-Milstein before burying a forehand shot with 2:41 left in the third period to give second-seeded Westfield a stunning 3-2 victory over top-seeded and defending champion Summit, No. 4 in the Hockey Night In Boston New Jersey Top 10, before 500 at Warinanco Rink in Roselle in the championship of the Union County Tournament.
Westfield (9-4-1) struck for two goals in the final period to extended its winning streak to three games and secured its first Union County Cup since 2013, when it defeated Summit, 3-1. Summit (14-2), which suffered its only previous loss this season to No. 3 Randolph back on Jan. 5, was looking to claim its seventh UCT title. The setback halted Summit’s four-game win streak.
It was a burst of atonement for Tanella and his Westfield teammates, who had lost to Summit in last year’s final and absorbed a 7-1 defeat earlier this season.
“They beat us 6-0 in last year’s championship so winning it this year was our goal,” said Tanella, who now has 14 points on four goals and 10 assists this season. “I didn’t want to take a penalty with only a few minutes left in regulation, so when I came out of the box I was ready. I had missed on a breakaway earlier in the game and I knew I had to make up for it at that point. All year this was what we wanted. This was our moment.”
The moment also belonged to Westfield junior goalie C.J. Duffy, who was magnificent in turning aside 32 shots against Summit’s high-scoring attack, limiting the Hilltoppers to just two goals or less for only the third time this season. Since that 2-1 loss to Randolph, Summit had scored 11 goals and given up one in three decisions.
“We knew it would be a tough game,” said Duffy, who stopped 24 shots through two periods despite suffering a hip injury during the second. “I got banged up on their second goal and it was a bit of a hip pointer. It hurt, but I knew I wasn’t going to come out of the game. Losing in the final last year ate us up and we really wanted to win it this time.”
Westfield, which outshot Summit 10-8 in the third, successfully killed off a Summit power play just three minutes into the third to keep its deficit at 2-1. Then the Blue Devils capitalized on their own extra-man opportunity with 9:45 left when senior defenseman Kenneth Meyer wired a long shot from the left point that eluded Summit goalie Wilson Lees (20 saves) to square it at 2-2. Tanella and Johnson-Milstein each assisted on the equalizer.
“It’s always a struggle to beat Summit,” said Westfield coach Joe Bertucci. “Every year they are the team to beat, but our players wanted it so badly this time. C.J. Duffy is such a battler. I can’t say enough about his performance tonight. Summit’s a very talented team and we knew we would have to weather some storms against them. We felt we had to hold them to two goals or less to have a chance to win and we were able to do that. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Westfield withstood that onslaught in the opening period, skating to a scoreless tie after being outshot, 13-7.
Summit opened the scoring when Aidan Wiseman scored his eighth goal with a nifty tap-in for a power play tally 1:57 into the period. Charlie Collis and Luc Radice assisted.
The Hilltoppers appeared to gain some momentum from the lead, but 2:50 later Matt Rittendale fired a wrister from the slot that eluded a screened Lees and pulled Westfield into a 1-1 tie. It was an unassisted goal, and the first allowed by Summit in over seven periods. The last goal yielded by the Hilltoppers came against Montclair in a 3-1 victory on Jan. 9.
Summit regained the lead when Greg Spitznagel jammed in a loose puck at the left post after Duffy had made two saves with 8:36 left in the second to make it a 2-1 game. Duffy was shaken up on the sequence but remained in the game, and less than two minutes later he denied Spitznagel on a breakaway before making the save of the game, a glove stab while on his back off a rebound by Tom Pryymak.
The two impressive stops proved a turning point in the contest.
The first period had stretches of speed displayed by both teams and engaging body checks, but overall the 14 minor penalties – and one five-minute major and game disqualification – inhibited the pace. Line changes and defensive rotations became disrupted by the 38 minutes in penalties – over two full periods.
“Westfield’s transition game was very good tonight,” said Summit coach Keith Nixon, now 320-233-48 in his career. “We lost too many puck battles. They played very well, and we didn’t do enough. We made some big mistakes. We’re a five-on-five team and trying to kill so many penalties took away from our strength.
“We had some chances, but we didn’t get enough pucks to the net. We had chances to go up 3-1 and couldn’t do it. The UCT Cup was one of our goals, but it’s an opportunity lost. Give Westfield credit. We have to be better.”
Main Image: Westfield celebrates its 2018 Union County Tournaent title on the ice at Warinanco Park in Roselle on January 20, 2018. (Photo by Tom Smith/TSPImages)
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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