Ex-BC defenseman Cross makes most of AHL chance

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Ex-BC defenseman Cross makes most of AHL chance

PROVIDENCE - Tommy Cross admits that it was disappointing when he was dropped down to the East Coast Hockey League a few months ago. The former Boston College standout defenseman was stuck in a numbers game with a large group of defensemen vying for six spots with the Providence Bruins, and he was the odd blueliner out.

So after Cross played in a pair of AHL games after signing with Providence last April, but couldnt break training camp this fall. So, rather than Cross sulking when he went down to the South Carolina Stingrays, he threw himself into the hockey and stood out from the crowd. Cross put up 17 points in 22 games for South Carolina to put him in a tie with former Northeastern forward Tyler McNeely for the team lead in scoring, and included six goals scored for a defenseman not known so much for offensive prowess.

Some of it was skating in the wide open world of the ECHL, and some of the point barrage was simply due to good, old-fashioned puck luck.

It might be a little more wide open down there, and you might have a little more time and space, said Cross. But its also still a pro hockey league and I played 22 games in about 35 or 40 days. That was good experience for me.

It certainly wasnt a lot of highlight reel goals down there. It was being solid defensively with a lot of good first entry passes and we had a couple of good games. But anytime you go down a level of minor league hockey you want to do what they tell, and they told me to make plays with the puck. When you do that youre going to get points.

Of course, some of the high-level performance is also due to Cross immediately having something to prove when his season started in disappointment in South Carolina.

Nobody wants to get sent down or demotedor whatever, said Cross. But you also realize that its part of your development as a player. It was a matter of looking at myself in the mirror, and asking what I needed to do to get a call back to the AHL. You have to take the positives out of it, and the positive was that I got to play a lot of minutes in a lot of different situations.

I did as best as I could and now Im back here. Im just trying to use what I learned down there to help me out. Its still good hockey down there, but its not the AHL especially with the raised quality of players this year.

The consistently high level of play for Cross led to the defenseman getting called up by Providence for this weekend when injuries hit the defensemen corps, and he jumped right into the P-Bruins fray.

Providence took five out of a possible six points in three games, and Cross snapped off a pair of assists while featuring a heavy shot from the point position. Providence Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said much of Cross improvement comes in simply stepping onto the ice with more confidence and surety than he had while a job was on the line in training camp.

Hes played with a lot of composure, hes made some plays and hes done a good job of getting his shot through, said Cassidy. He played his off-side pretty well. Weve got a lot of left sticks and the game is changing pretty well so its tough to play your off-side. But he told us he did that growing up and he did a pretty good job over there.

Physically down low he was good. Its just some gap control stuff and just making sure he can play at the AHL level with some pace. But I liked him. Hes a better player now than when he went to the ECHL in October. Hes playing with a little confidence and swagger in his game. He showed that he can play in the league this weekend, and its a matter of consistency now.

If Cross keeps up that swagger and keeps playing games like he did this weekend, it could be a long, long time before he ever has to worry about any return trips to the South Carolina home of the Stingrays. That would be just fine with him.

Nash scores a pair of goals in Bruins 2-1 win over Islanders

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Nash scores a pair of goals in Bruins 2-1 win over Islanders

BROOKLYN, NY – The Bruins knew they needed to find stellar performances somewhere in order to come out of a must-win game vs. the Islanders with two points, and they got exactly that.

Riley Nash had his best game as a member of the Bruins with a pair of goals scored in a 2-1 win over the Islanders at the Barclays Center that snapped a four game losing streak, and pushed them back into the wild card playoff spot.

It wasn’t a perfect game for the Black and Gold by any means and it was nip-and-tuck all the way, but it was important for the Bruins to show they could pull out those kinds of games late in the season.

Things didn’t look all that great early when John Tavares cut through the Bruins defense in the first period, and whistled a wrist shot from the high slot that went through Adam McQuaid’s legs before beating Anton Khudobin. The Bruins responded, however, on the very next shift with Nash stealing the puck from Scott Mayfield in the neutral zone, and beating Thomas Greiss short side for the important game-tying goal.

It looked like the Bruins had their go-ahead score in the first period on a second-effort power play goal by Frank Vatrano, but that was wiped out by a coach’s challenge that ruled David Backes interfered with Greiss in front of the New York net.

So the Bruins needed to wait until the third period when Boston’s fourth line stepped up and won the massively important game for Boston. Dominic Moore fed Riley Nash hustling into the offensive zone, and he weaved through the Islanders defense before snapping a shot past Greiss for his second goal of the game and his seventh on the season for the Bruins. 

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Gonzaga beats Xavier 83-59 to reach first Final Four

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NCAA TOURNAMENT: Gonzaga beats Xavier 83-59 to reach first Final Four

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points while orchestrating Gonzaga's efficient offense, and the Zags finally shook their overrated tag by routing Xavier 83-59 on Saturday to reach the Final Four for the first time.

Gonzaga (36-1) has been dogged by criticism through the years despite winning consistently, in part for playing in a weak conference but also for never making the Final Four.

On the cusp of history, the Zags took it head on with a superb all-around game to give coach Mark Few the one missing piece of his resume.

Gonzaga found the range from the perimeter after struggling the first three NCAA games, making 12 of 24 from 3-point range. The defense, a soft spot in the past, shut down the underdog and 11th-seeded Musketeers (24-14) to win the West Region.

The Zags will face the winner between South Carolina and Florida in next week's Final Four in Arizona.

J.P Macura led the Musketeers with 18 points.

The Musketeers brought their turn-the-page jar of ashes to the NCAA Tournament, where they burned through a string of upsets to reach their third Elite Eight and first since 2008. They beat Maryland, Florida State and took down No. 2 Arizona in the regional semifinals, setting up a matchup of small Jesuit schools seeking their first Final Four.

The Final Four was the only thing missing on Few's resume, which includes 18 straight NCAA Tournaments, eight trips to the Sweet 16 and a third Elite Eight after surviving West Virginia's constant pressure in the regional semifinals.

The Zags struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the Mountaineers - who doesn't? - but had it flowing against Xavier.

Gonzaga came into the Elite Eight hitting 29 percent of its 3-point shots after making 37 percent during the season. The Zags found the range early against Xavier, hitting 8 of 13 from the arc in the first half, mostly against the Musketeers' zone or on kick-outs from center Przemek Karnowski.

Xavier got off to a good start offensively by working the ball around, but hit a dry spell and made 1 of 5 from 3-point range as Gonzaga stretched to lead to 49-39 by halftime.

Halftime did little to slow the Zags, who pushed the lead to 59-42 on 3-pointers by Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews. Gonzaga kept the machine rolling in the second half, continuing to make shots while its defense prevented the Musketeers from making any kind of run.