It was a classic case of puncher vs. counterpuncher at raucous Warinanco Rink in Roselle Saturday, Feb. 23, as Westfield and Summit squared off with the Union County Ice Hockey Championship at stake. The teams had split their two regular season games, each winning by one goal, and Saturday’s rubber match certainly lived up to expectations.
Westfield came out as the aggressor, banging the smaller but speedy Summit team in the first period and establishing a physical presence that would last the entire night.
The fierce Blue Devil forecheck paid off with four minutes remaining in the first period as Westfield forwards Andy Eckert, Sam Meyer and Jeremie DeDea cycled down low in the offensive zone until DeDea was able to bury a shot from the slot for a 1-0 lead.
The Hilltoppers began to get their offense going in the second period, thanks in part to Westfield’s steady march to the penalty box. Summit’s high scoring trio of Liam McLaughlin, Chris Zanelli and Riley Flynn were held at bay by Blue Devil goalie Dan DoCampo (19 saves) until the last minute of the period when McLaughlin made a nifty move out of the corner and slipped a shot inside the near post for a 1-1 tie after 2.
But Westfield’s consistent attack wore down the Hilltoppers in the third period. Forwards Jon Macik and Nick Grawehr maintained their relentless pressure in the Summit zone and it resulted in a 2-1 lead four minutes in when Meyer took a feed from Macik and snapped a quick wrist shot by stellar Summit netminder Garrett McGowan (28 saves).
Westfield continued to carry play and with six minutes to go, forward Dane Huber stretched the lead to 3-1 with a highlight reel, top corner blast. Summit frantically pressed to get back into the game but to no avail as Westfield defensemen Liam Devin, Chris Kattak and Andrew Stern thwarted the Hilltoppers offense.
Summit's head coach Keith Nixon said Westfield is a bigger team and the Hilltoppers, who now stand at 17-4-3 this season, couldn’t get a physical match-up going against them, ultimately falling short of a fourth consecutive county title
“Westfield just played really, really well tonight," said Nixon post-game. "Physically, we had some trouble handling them. They did a really good job of shutting down our offense. They played the body well and took away a lot of our opportunities. We had power play chances that we just didn’t convert on. We missed a few really good opportunities right in front of the net. It was a hard fought, tough game. They’re a good team and when two good teams play each other, somebody’s going to win.”
Next up for Westfield is the NJ Public A State Tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 26 vs. Manalapan at Warinanco Rink at 8:30 p.m. Summit begins their defense of last year’s Public B State Title on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m., also at Warinanco Rink.Box Score 1st 2nd 3rd Final Summit 0 1 0 1 Westfield 1 0 2 3
*Summit Patch editor Caitlin Mahon contributed to this report.