A new start for Cory Cross
I'm perhaps as guilty as anyone over the years for giving a few subtle digs to Cory Cross, the big lug of a defenceman who was dealt by the Edmonton Oilers to the Pittsburgh Penguins last Thursday. The 'whipping boy' of the Oiler faithful through parts of three seasons, Cross had borne the brunt of criticism from hammerhead Edmonton fans.
As was made known following that trade, all the heckling had gotten to the lad from Lloyd¹.
"Tom Poti went through it. I went through it," Cross said of the rough ride he'd endured from fans this season. "I was hoping it would never happen to me, but ...That's tough. Cross was always far from the most talented guy on the ice, but you never could really say his effort was lacking. Hockey's a game — especially this season — in which a big, sluggish body can be made to look silly quite easily. Just think of how one of Jason Spezza's moves turned Sheldon Souray inside out earlier this year.
"You've got it in the back of your mind. You don't want to make a mistake. When you do make a mistake, somebody is yelling at you and that. You can't play when you're not confident.
"It was tough on my family, but it's a hockey environment and people want to win."
Cross, 35, a veteran of 637 NHL games with Tampa Bay, Toronto, the New York Rangers and Oilers, had become the whipping boy for the Rexall Place faithful this season, one in which he was in and out of the line-up.
"They're going to pick on somebody," Cross said. "If it's not me, it's going to be the next guy. I feel sorry for the next guy because it's not a fun environment to play in when people are taking advantage of you. What can you do? You move on. They can boo somebody else."
Many players opine on their love for playing in Canadian cities, but often these are the superstars, the finesse types who score the big goals and get the glory. If you're even a tiny bit mistake-prone, life playing in Canada is a rollercoaster ride of peaks and valleys that rise or fall with the team's — and your own — performance. Just ask any goaltender who played for the Vancouver Canucks since Kirk McLean.
Of course, Cross is a professional athlete and being heckled is part of what he does. Yet, bringing a hometown kid to tears — a guy who wanted nothing more than to bring success to the people of Edmonton — is far too great a consequence for a marginal player's on-ice mistakes. Especially for a guy who came from as unlikely a hockey program as any NHLer — the Canadian university system — and went on to become one of the most successful players ever selected in the wasteland that was the league's supplemental draft.
For shame says Edmonton Journal columnist Jim Matheson:
And, hey, shame on me, too. Because for all the problems the Oilers have had this season, blaming them on their sixth defenceman who played 13 minutes a night is downright ridiculous. Given the year they've had, I have a feeling the Pittsburgh faithful will be much more forgiving of a big guy who'll bust a gut on the ice every night.
Cross willed himself to play outside the box to be an NHLer. He wasn't born nasty. He had a big body, so he was told to get nasty, so he often did, against his personality. He got in people's way. He blocked some shots. He's played 637 NHL games. Made a nice living and liked his job, until he came here.
This was supposed to be home. Where he went to school. Instead, it became a nightmare....
This was one guy who dreamed of playing for the Oilers and instead his stomach was in knots most nights. He didn't deserve the hostile reception night after night after night. This was a guy who was never a big star, never played the part. A guy who always was a useful fourth or fifth defenceman and he was treated shabbily.
Precious few guys leave the Oilers and say they're glad. This was one of them, a 35-year-old reduced to tears.
Shame on you.
(To be fair, it should be noted that Cross finished -3 in his first game as a Penguin on Saturday, an ugly 7-1 loss to the New York Rangers. Onwards and upwards?)
¹ I can call Lloydminster, Alta. (or it is Sask.?), 'Lloyd' because, for a few months anyway, I lived in Bonnyville/Cold Lake. Oh I've got Alberta cred — just not one of those credits Ralph's been doling out.