Summit captures first-ever state title
What made Tenafly’s Public B run so special may have been the very thing that inevitably did it in.
Playing in its fifth-straight overtime game in a row it looked like the Tigers simply ran out of steam, and with 5:01 left freshman Riley Flynn scored the biggest goal in Summit hockey history off of a pass from Mike Nyitray.
“Coach has been telling me all year to hit the brakes on the rush and I hadn’t done it once but finally I decided to do it and it won us the championship,” said Nyitray, who scored Summit’s only other goal early in the second period of its 2-1 triumph on Friday at Prudential Center. “I imagine it’s kind of how winning the Stanley Cup feels, I’m speechless.”
Tenafly has been able to grind teams down all season and managed to win a bunch of close games during a year in which it won 23 games total -- most in school history -- on this night however, the puck just didn’t bounce their way.
Midway through the extra session Tenafly even had a look at a wide open net and a game winner but a bouncing puck eluded Eli Markowitz and the game remained tied at 1-1. The low score was in no way indicative of lack of chances, both Tenafly’s Jon Winawer and Summits Garret McGowan were fantastic and it’s cliché to say, but the game really could have gone either way.
“We imagined this at the beginning of the year,” said Summit coach Keith Nixon. “We set four goals, win the Cron tournament, finish with the top record in the league, win our league championship and to win Public B and we accomplished it, I couldn’t be prouder.”
It was a game between two teams that had never won a state championship before which meant history would be made no matter who the victor. For Tenafly the consolation prize of a fantastic season and coming up just short in the big game was not the one it had hoped for, certainly not an easy pill to swallow.
“Only time is going to heal it, it’s tough,” said Tenafly coach Andy Escala. “This was a great experience, I’m not going to forget it and the kids are certainly not going to forget it. The support we have gotten from the school, the town, ex-players, this team put Tenafly hockey on the map. It’s just a tough way to end.”
Keith Nixon started coaching with Summit 18 years ago as an assistant has seen plenty of ups and downs during his time on the bench and perhaps it was just his time.
Through it all he has stuck with the Hilltoppers and now has the ultimate payoff, a state championship for the shelf and the distinction of being the man who finally brought it home to Kent Place Boulevard.
“We have put our heart and soul into building this program,” said Nixon. “When I took it over there wasn’t a whole lot of success, we have knocked on the door a few times but to get over the hump and see these guys experience it, you really can’t ask for much more. It’s a really great feeling.”
“Absolutely amazing,” said Flynn of scoring such a historic goal in his first year of high school. “As soon as it went in I was looking for Mike (Nyitray) to celebrate. I’m so happy for the seniors that we could do it for them and they got to experience it, they have laid the foundation and it was important to see them get this championship.”
Nyitray was a man possessed, not to be denied on his last night wearing a Summit uniform.
The senior captain is a defensemen by trade but has helped carry the Hilltoppers’ offense all year with a team-leading 48 points and his rush and finish in the second looked like Zach Parise was streaking down left wing at the Prudential Center. Nyitray’s heady move to pull up and find Flynn for the winner was the type of play great hockey players tend to make in big spots.
“Mike’s been a leader at Summit, he’s scored so many big goals for us as a defensemen I had a feeling on a big stage today that he would do something special tonight and he did,” said Nixon. “He’s like a point guard, we allow him the freedom to chose when to jump in the play because he picks his spots so well. When he takes off up the ice he draws a lot of attention and you can see what happens when he does.”
“It was extremely important to all of the seniors,” Nyitray said of going out on top. “Some of us might never play competitive hockey again after tonight, I honestly don’t know if I could have lived with it for the rest of my life knowing that we lost this game. Thank goodness.”
On the opposite end were the somber, tear-filled faces of the losers, who wanted so badly to take home a title for their coach -- who has also seen lean times himself -- and a community that was bleeding Tiger Orange.
“Even after the game the student body was yelling to the kids, ‘we still love you.’ The outpouring of support has been unbelievable and it almost makes it harder,” said Escala choking back tears of his own. “So much goes into this and so many people care, that’s what makes it so tough. We were playing for the town and the town has embraced us so genuinely, it’s going to take awhile to shake this one off.”
It was the first of three games at the Rock Friday night but fans from both sides showed up in force to fill the arena with sound and atmosphere, a true testament to how the schools and communities feel about their respective hockey teams.
It was more fervent and fun than some of the games played by the big team on the exact same ice and the type of night you pray to be a part of. Great hockey between great programs, coaches and fan bases. Sport at its finest.
Contact John Quirk at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @QuirkMedia