PLYMOUTH, Mich. — On the strength of two Justin Cross goals, Niagara defeated host Wayne State, 3-1, Sunday afternoon and leapfrogged the Warriors into third place in the College Hockey America standings.
Junior Justin Cross scored the first two goals for NU after a scoreless first period and goaltender Jeff Van Nynatten stopped 26 shots for the victory.
“This was a good road weekend for us,” said Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder. “I was especially happy with our ‘Gray Line’ of (Ryan) Gale, (Tim) Madsen and Cross. They played so well and it was good to get something out of them this weekend.”
Cross’ first goal came 2:31 into the second period. Madsen put a shot on WSU goalie Matt Kelly and the rebound came to Cross, who spun around and beat Kelly glove side with a shot along the ice.
Cross then made it 2-0 on a partial breakaway at 4:43. Madsen hit Cross with a pass and Cross went in and beat Kelly high glove.
“My three years here, I’ve always been a streaky player,” said Cross. “Hopefully a game like this can keep me streaking well into March.”
Matt Caruana upped the Purple Eagles’ lead to 3-0 when he tapped home a pass from Cliff Ketchen on a 5-on-3 power play at 14:40. Caruana beat Kelly from below the right faceoff circle on a nice series of Niagara passes.
Nate Higgins got WSU (12-15-3, 5-8-3 CHA) on the board at 19:35 when he solved Van Nynatten. Steve Kovalchik gloved down a Niagara clearing attempt, dished off to Jason Baclig, who in turn found Higgins crashing the net for a snap shot that barely crossed the goal line.
The third period was scoreless and with Kelly on the bench for the final 1:41, the Warriors couldn’t penetrate the Niagara defense or Van Nynatten. Kelly did finish with 26 stops for Wayne State.
“We haven’t had a lot of success lately and I’ll be honest, practices have been pretty somber and ugly,” admitted Burkholder. “But to take three of four on the road in the CHA really gives us confidence and hopefully this springboards us into next weekend. We just need to keep it coming.”
The Purple Eagles (11-16-2, 6-8-2 CHA) travel to Air Force this weekend while the Warriors are idle before hosting Air Force Feb. 26-27.