DENVER — Justin Cross scored twice and Jeff VanNynatten won the battle of goaltenders with 37 saves as Niagara skated past Yale 2-1 in the consolation game of the 2003 Wells Fargo Denver Cup at the Magness Arena.
“It was a very good road win for us,” said Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder. “I thought Jeff played a mistake-free game and Justin Cross picked up his game.”
Yale (5-10), coming off a 5-2 loss to Nebraska-Omaha the night before, played much better against the Purple Eagles (10-8-1) of the CHA. The Bulldogs had a season-high 38 shots on goal (to NU’s 36) but could not break the sophomore goalie from Stratford, Ont.
“We generated more grade-A scoring chances than we have all year,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “Our best goal-scorers got most of those chances. Their goalie played extremely well, especially in the second period.”
The good news for Yale in the first period was solid defense and excellent puck movement that resulted in 14 shots on goal. That is a big number for the Bulldogs considering they were outshot 21-4 in the third period on Saturday. The bad news was that VanNynatten stopped every shot — including four by senior forward Ryan Steeves — and stood on his head in the process. On the other end, Matt Modelski was nearly as effective with 10 saves in 11 shots on net.
The Purple Eagles, coming off a 3-2 loss to tournament host Denver on Saturday night, took advantage of their first power-play chance and tallied the game’s first goal after Joe Callahan was called for slashing. Cross netted his third goal of the year by firing a hard shot from the top of the left circle that beat Modelski at 4:44 of the opening frame.
Modelski had his second-highest save total of the year with 34, including 12 stops in both the second and third frames.
“Our defense played very well. They gave me the first shot and then cleared the puck,” said the Yale goalie.
After stopping 26 straight shots, the Elis finally cracked Van Nynatten at 16:29 of the second period … on a shorthanded goal, of all things. Defenseman Mike Grobe poked the puck to Jeff Hristovski who skated into the Niagara end with Steeves on a 2-on-1.
Hristovski, a sophomore winger, waited until the last moment before flipping a little pass that Steeves redirected on net between the Purple Eagle netminder’s legs for his sixth score of the season. The puck barely made it over the goal line to tie the score at 1-1.
It was the third shorthanded score of the year for Yale, which outshot NU in the second 14-12, and the second for Steeves, who assisted on the other by Hristovski. The tying goal was particularly satisfying for Steeves because it was his eighth shot on VanNynatten.
NU got the game-winner at 1:40 of the third when Cross skated around a Bulldog blueliner and angled his way toward Modelski, who was playing his sixth game of the year. Cross waited until he came within 10 feet of the freshman goalie before make a move one way then going back the other with a backhander over Modelski’s shoulder.
“[Cross] walked in on me and was bringing the puck in front of me. Then he cut back to the short side and put it upstairs,” said Modelski.