Tommy Cross, a defenseman at Westminster High School in Simsbury, Connecticut, tested early in the morning of the second day of the NHL Combine’s fitness challenges. With good balance, agility, and vertical results, Cross excelled at the extremely difficult windgate bike test.
The 6’3, 195 lbs blueliner was ranked 12th among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting’s final ratings, and had been invited to join the United States NTDP, but decided to return home to Connecticut for high school. This past season, he played 25 games with Westminster, recorded 20 points, with 20 PIM. He also participated in the U18 WJCs this past April, and registered one assist in seven games at the tournament (4 PIM, +2).
Cross’ demeanor and test results at the Combine did nothing to hurt the possibility that he will be a first-round selection later this month. In total, Cross had 28 interviews scheduled over the 48-hour period during which he was in attendance at the Toronto Combine.
HF spoke to Cross immediately after he completed the fitness portion of the event.
HF: How do you feel after this workout?
TC: I feel great, in fact, this is fun. You can’t beat it, being around all the guys, and having people watching. I’ve watched the NFL Combine on TV before, so it’s really cool to actually be at a Combine. The testing is tough but it’s all part of the business.
HF: What was the hardest fitness test here?
TC: The two bike tests, the VO2 and the windgate. They just really get to you, it tests your endurance and your leg strength, so it’s tough.
HF: You are one of the youngest guys here, with another year of high school left — does your thinking change knowing that you are one of the youngest?
TC: No, not at all, I have been with all these guys all along. I am almost as old as they are; I am just a year behind at school. I have played with this age group all my life and consider myself part of it. I’m glad I am in this year’s draft; it gives me great opportunities, and I really don’t see being born in September as a disadvantage or anything like that.
HF: Because some are saying that this draft year will be a bit weaker than next year’s, do you think being included here may actually help you?
TC: Oh yeah, I guess that you can say that. I don’t know much about next year’s draft, but I do know that there are some great players like [Drew] Doughty, and Colin Wilson to name a few, so yeah, I am in this draft and am happy with it.
HF: How aware are you of your ranking, that you could be a first-round pick, and if you are, does it affect how you behave here and approach your interviews?
TC: I am aware of what people are saying, but no I don’t do anything differently, except that I use it as motivation to work harder because no matter where I am ranked right now, there are still somewhere from 10 to 30 guys ahead of me. In my position, you’ve got to do whatever you can to catch them and go past them. So I do get some more attention, but I just use it to work harder and push myself to perform better.
HF: Personally what do you believe is the strongest part of your game?
TC: I think by far the strongest part of my game is my hockey sense. My dad [Tom Cross, former Dartmouth player] was a hockey guy, and being able to sit around the dinner table, talk hockey, and watch the game was great when I was younger. It’s great to see different situations with superstars like Nick Lidstrom and all the really good defensemen, and say to myself, look what he did here. Then, the next time I am on the ice, I try and take what I have learned from watching those guys and what my dad taught me, and put it to use.
HF: Has your dad been the most influential person in your hockey career thus far?
TC: Definitely my dad, he was my coach all the way up through last season. We have a great relationship, he is a great guy and we’ve had a lot of fun along the way.
HF: Among NHL scouts, you are labeled as a defensive defenseman, but do you have offensive abilities and have you been working on improving the offensive side of the game?
TC: Yes definitely. Although lately I have settled into the role of a defensive defenseman, and that’s okay, I think that I have a lot more to offer. I think that I can be an offensive weapon as well, joining the rush and making 3 on 2s, 4 on 2s, making great passes every time that I touch the puck. The offensive side is something that I stress a lot — I think the defensive side of the game is there for me, although I do have to keep working on that too, but the offensive side of the game is what I have been keying on lately.
HF: How did you prepare for the Combine, if at all?
TC: I definitely prepared, it’s been in my mind. But I had to finish up school and I just took my last final exam [late last week]. Before exams I would have baseball practice in the afternoon, then go straight to the weight room, work on these [fitness] tests and then just work out to get stronger. At the same time I have been preparing myself for the summer program, so that I can get the most out of that program that I can. During free period at school, I often go down to the rink and shoot pucks. I try to use every second I have to make myself a better player.
HF: You have a verbal commitment to Boston College for the Fall of 2008, what made you decide on that school?
TC: Everything. I wanted to be in Boston; I love the city. I live only two hours from there. I am a big Red Sox fan and I always watch the Bruins; it came down to either Boston College or Boston University. With BC, I felt a little more comfortable. I felt a connection with [Head] Coach [Jerry] York, as well as the guys who are going there, Nick Petrecki and Cam Atkinson. We’ve had a bond since we are little. We’ve played together all the way since youth hockey, so we are a close group, and we are really looking forward to going for a national championship together.
HF: What are the things you like to do off the ice?
TC: I like to play baseball and golf. I work at a golf course. I am also involved in student government at my school, and am president of my class. Other than that, I like to play pool basketball in my pool in the summers.
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