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.