By Mike Gurnis
It was a familiar feeling inside the Chatham locker room on Monday after the Public C final.
Against an opponent in Summit that broke its hearts almost a year ago to the day in last year’s Public C final, the Cougars had yet another opportunity to win a state title on Monday. Much like last year’s final, the Cougars had a heavy shot advantage for most of the game. But once again, it was Summit that ruled on the scoreboard, as the Hilltoppers claimed their second straight Public C title with a 6-2 win over Chatham at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Chatham out-shot Summit, 40-24, just a year after it out-shot the Hilltoppers 32-8 in the title game and lost.
“Summit’s a good team. They’re well-coached and they stick to their structure,” Chatham coach Brendon Herr said. “Credit to our guys, they worked hard tonight. But one team had to win, and Summit was the better team tonight. Our guys worked hard for three periods. I don’t think anybody thought we’d get back here to the title game, so credit to our guys for coming together. I sat here a year ago and said that we’d be back here, and the 20 guys in the room made that happen”
It was just about as perfect of a start as Chatham could have hoped for. Just 2:45 into the game, Matt Keane fed Jack Deletto for the all-important first goal as Chatham managed to do what it couldn’t do in all of last year’s final, which was scoring on Summit goaltender Nikita Pryymak.
The Cougars went on the power play just two minutes later, and had some good opportunities to extend its lead early. But Pryymak was dialed in, as he was for much of the remainder of the game.
Summit then scored twice in the final 5:04 of the first period, as Greg Spitznagel scored both goals to give the Hilltoppers command of the game.
The second period saw Chatham continue to apply pressure on Pryymak, but the junior continued to make big save after big save. Then, Summit capitalized on the power play twice in the final five minutes, as Tom Pryymak and Charlie Collins each scored, before Remi Vidal added a key insurance goal with 26 seconds left.
In total, Pryymak finished with 38 saves on 40 Chatham shots.
“He’s (Pryymak) been the best goaltender for the past two years, and we had some real good looks,” Herr said. “I don’t know what the total shots were but we had some really good looks on the power play. He was able to come up with some big saves and we just couldn’t get a bounce.”
Chatham’s Michael Sciaretta scored off a rebound of a Danny Mahoney shot with 7:35 to go in the third, but the large deficit was too much to overcome, leaving Chatham still in search of its first state title since 2013.
“They got a couple of quick goals towards the end, and we got run around a little bit,” Herr said. “It’s hard to recover late in the game like that. We came back and regrouped, and I thought we finished well.”
As difficult as the loss is, it should not overshadow the incredible route that Chatham took to get to this point. The Cougars were 5-10-1 and were on the outside looking in back in January, before going 9-2-1 down the stretch. It had to battle through several injuries and illnesses earlier in the year, and the team showed what it was capable of when at full strength down the stretch.
“Their character is huge,” Herr said. “We have 14 seniors, our three captains in Evan Schmidt, Colin Pierce, and Danny Mahoney. They’re a big part of why we were able to stick together, and finally when we did get healthy down the stretch, we were able to string some wins together.
“They’re 20 mature men, this is our fourth year with them, and to watch these guys grow, especially as people, has been fun for us.”
CHA — Jack Deletto (Matt Keane) 12:15
SUM — Greg Spitznagel (Joe Galgano, Tom Pryymak) 5:04
SUM — Greg Spitznagel (Charlie Collins) 2:21
SUM — Tom Pryymak (Davis Strabley, Kyle Graham) 4:38 PPG
SUM — Charlie Collins (Greg Spitznagel) 2:17 PPG
SUM — Remi Vidal (Davis Strabley) 0:26
CHA — Michael Sciaretta (Danny Mahoney, Declan Curry) 7:35
SUM — Chris Magovern (Spencer Myers) 3:40 PPG
Shots on goal: Chatham 40, Summit 24
Saves: Nikita Pryymak (Summit) 38, Zachary Pendergrast (Chatham) 18