WEST ORANGE, NJ — A well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders — all it needed was some gas.
It has been an up-and-down, in-and-out-of-the-lineup season for Summit, but the Hilltoppers finally found its stride at the best time of year.
Luc Radice and Greg Spitznagel each scored twice and set up a third, and Spencer Myers, Chris Macgovern and Davis Strabley joined the party as fourth-seeded Summit fashioned an 8-1 victory over ninth-seeded Ramsey in the NJSIAA Public C semifinals at Codey Arena in West Orange.
With the triumph, the Hilltoppers return to “The Rock” to defend its 2018 state title and waits the winner of 6-Chatham vs. 7-Northern Highlands Thursday night.
“I think we’re playing our best hockey right now,” Summit coach Keith Nixon said. “That’s where you need to be. Doesn’t matter how you get there. But we’ve finally figured it out.”
“We were just excited to get going and we went out flying,” Spitznagel said. “Going into the state final, it’s good to show other teams what we’re made of. We’re playing good hockey. Just want to it keep going.”
Collins, Myers and Radice gave Summit a two-goal lead after one period before the Hilltoppers struck for four goals in the second frame to establish a 7-1 advantage after two. With Nikita Pryymak back between the pipes turning aside 20 shots and Tom Pryymak mixing it up offensively with three assists, Summit struck early and often.
“Both teams were going to come out firing. We just wanted to set the tone,” Radice, who scored at the end of the first, then again to start the second, said. “We got the first one but gave up another. We just wanted to come back fired up and come out with the win.”
Since falling, 6-5, to Westfield in the McInnis Cup, Summit (19-6-1) has won three straight games in the state tournament, outscoring the opposition 21-3. But it was Ramsey (16-12) arguably playing its best hockey of the season after stunning top-seeded Indian Hills in overtime, 3-2, on Monday.
“We knew (Ramsey) was going to come out hard. They came out against Indian Hills pretty hard, got a goal the first minute. We wanted to get out on top of them first and that’s what we did,” Spitznagel said. “On the bench, the boys were rattled. We were rowdy for the win and kept putting pucks in the net.”
“We knew they were coming off a big win so we wanted to shut them down, play in their zone, get it in deep and that’s what we did,” Radice said. “It feels really good going into the last game of my career finishing, helping the team out any way I can.”
Chris Magovern and Davis Strabley added power-play goals, late, for Summit.
“Now, we’re starting to score goals on secondary chances. We’re playing to the level of talent that’s in the room,” Nixon said. “Earlier in the season, everything was off the initial shot. If it didn’t go in, there was nobody there for the rebound. No garbage goals. These last three games, we’ve figured it out.”
Tyler Botta’s goal with 33 seconds left tied it for Ramsey in the quarterfinals. The junior then won it in overtime as the Rams upset Indian Hills on Monday.
Botta scored to tie this game at 1-1 just 3:40 into the action, but it would be all the offense Ramsey could muster against Summit.
“I was kind of disappointed with our start. I thought we came out flat,” Ramsey coach Jeff Mills said. “I think we did a lot of watching. We kind of sat back and watched a good hockey game at the beginning. We’ve come back almost every game we’ve played, we battled back last game against Indian Hills. Down 2-1 with 30 seconds left. We find a way. Tonight, we just sat back watching and didn’t find that next gear.
“The kids can’t be disappointed with the season we had,” Mills said. “The ninth-seed ended up in the state semifinals — that’s crazy — and we earned every bit of it.”
Team captain James Gasparovich took satisfaction in Ramsey’s solid season, which included a 5-3 victory over Mahwah in the Sweet-16. The Rams were eyeing its first state title since defeating Glen Rock, 5-1, in 2016.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard 100 percent of the time,” Gasparovich said. “I saw a team that wouldn’t quit no matter what. I saw Dane Beltramini play out of his mind the whole season. Nothing changes. Heart and will. That’s what it takes to get it done. That’s what this team’s made of. I see a team that has a fantastic future.”
“I watched the Indian Hills-Ramsey game and that was a very talented team that Ramsey beat,” Nixon, The Star-Ledger State Coach of the Year after guiding Summit to its first state title in 2012, said. “Ramsey is a feisty team. They get the most out of what they got. They work hard. I said to the guys, ‘Look, we have to play as a team. We have to get pucks to the net, get traffic to the net,’ which we’ve been doing a much better job of lately.”
When asked if there’s any added pressure to defending their title against Randolph on Monday, Collins said: “The experience is definitely helpful from last year, especially with so many returning guys. It puts a target on our head. We need to make sure we bring our best game every game. We just have to stay disciplined and play with some heart and we’ll be good.”