Providence's Cross Making up for Lost Season
by Scott McLaughlin/
PROVIDENCE, R.I Seven minutes into the third period of Saturday's 2-2 tie against defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, Providence forward Damian Cross flipped a centering pass from Ross Mauermann into the net for his first collegiate goal. It was Cross' first goal since his incredible 2009-10 season with the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Canada Hockey League.
That year, Cross collected an incredible 53 goals and 87 assists in 62 games to lead the entire Canadian Junior Hockey League (which comprises 10 leagues total) in scoring. He scored the overtime game-winner that gave Pembroke the Bogart Cup, he was named the CCHL's most outstanding player and he was named one of six finalists for the RBC Canadian Junior Hockey Player of the Year award.
But Cross hasn't had nearly as smooth of a time at Providence as he did in Pembroke. The 5-foot-11 right wing registered an assist in his first career game vs. Northeastern last year, but he also suffered a knee injury that would ultimately derail his freshman campaign.
Although Cross played in the Friars' next four games, his knee worsened and the injury turned out to be more serious than previous thought. On November 19, nearly a month after his last game, he was ruled out for the season and given a medical redshirt.
"It was the toughest thing in the world," Cross said of missing the season. "It was real tough. But at the same time, it was good for me to watch the game and see what I need to do and how I need to play in this league."
Cross has clearly applied what he learned from watching to his own game. With his goal Saturday night, he now has four points in four games for the new-look Friars, who are now 2-1-1 in the Nate Leaman era.
Cross said it took him a while to get back on the ice while recovering from the knee injury, but that he stayed on campus over the summer and put in extra work to make sure he was ready for this season. He didn't want to have go through as big of an adjustment as he did last year.
"It was a huge adjustment," Cross said of the jump from juniors to NCAA. "The game speed is a lot faster, and the work ethic is a lot better, too. … Playing against Minnesota-Duluth at the beginning of last year, it was a big adjustment for me. It was my second and third games. This year I feel a lot more confident and comfortable."
And the Friars need Cross to be confident. He's on their second line with two other freshmen in Mauermann and Stefan Demopoulos, and he also sees a lot of power-play time. Leaman praised Cross, but said that as is the case with many of Providence's young players, there are still areas he needs to improve.
"I think he's a very skilled player," Leaman said of Cross. "He has very good poise with the puck. The big thing with Damian right now is learning to not have any down time in his shifts and really be a guy that hounds the puck. I think if he does that, he'll be more effective, because he's gotta be a guy that works with the puck."
Cross probably won't be averaging 2.26 points per game any time soon like he did in 2009-10 with Pembroke, but as he continues to develop, he'll be a key component in what the Friars hope is a major turnaround for the program. The fact that he already sees so much ice time is a testament to Leaman's faith in him.
Like with any young player, there will undoubtedly be some obstacles along the way, but for now, his teammates are just glad he's already cleared the biggest hurdle — last year's knee injury.
"It's great to have him back," said assistant captain Tim Schaller. "He's hungry this year, and he's really putting the puck to the net. When he moves his feet, he can beat anybody in the league. He's a smart kid and he's a big player for us this year on the power play and on 5-on-5."