Wednesday, February 01, 2006

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 ...

"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."

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.

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:

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.

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.

(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.

8 Comments:

At 5:49 AM, February 01, 2006, Anonymous Colby Cosh said...

Jim Matheson says about six different things in that column that could individually take the Nobel Prize for Bullshit. Cross was "always a useful fourth or fifth defenseman?" Um, no, Jim--if you'll open your peepers, you'll see he just got traded on the open market as a throw-in for a sixth D/power-play specialist who was a spare part on a horrible team.

Cross left Tampa with laughter pursuing him onto the plane and is still casually trashed about once or twice a week by your average Leaf fan. (You think they'd like to have Fredrik Modin back? Yeah, I think so.) Cross had plenty of defenders in Edmonton, myself among them. It's not like nobody knew he was a local boy or a U of A grad. Right until the end he got a softer ride from the Oiler faithful than Igor Ulanov or Anson Carter or Dan Cleary could have dreamed of. Matheson, whose "Hall of Fame" credential is rubbed endlessly in the grills of Edmonton sports fans, either knows this or is irresponsible for not knowing it. Comparing Cross with Arnott and Poti, who had "shoot on sight" orders pursuing them by the time they left Edmonton, is just preposterous.

If Matheson had been forced to run his column past one actual hockey fan, he'd certainly have refrained from referring to Cross's $874,000 salary as "a nice living." (I'm guessing his wife does the shopping.)

 
At 7:42 AM, February 01, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

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.

Goalie, goalie, goalie, goalie, goalie, goalie...etc.

Cross left Tampa with laughter pursuing him onto the plane and is still casually trashed about once or twice a week by your average Leaf fan.

Your average Leaf fan thinks that he's going to a parade in June 2006. You really want to point to them as an example of the discerning hockey fan?

Cross sucked this year? Fine. I agree with James insofar as Cross was not the problem and booing him was utterly pointless. He was expected to be a sixth defenceman and he was average to below average at filling that role. The Oilers got a good season out of him in 2003-04 and briefly at the end of 02-03; I don't understand all the venom now.

You want to talk about guys who are to blame for the Oilers not being ahead of where they are at the moment, there is a long list of them who were relied on to provide a lot more than Cory Cross-Conklin, Markkanen, Torres (something like 8 points in his last 40 games), Peca (for 1/2 the season) and even Ulanov has been directly responsible for more game costing fuckups than Cross. I'm not disappointed that he's gone but Oiler fans aren't coming out particularly well over this-there's a thread at Oilfans where people are taking part in the internet equivalent of dancing on his grave, for christ's sake.

 
At 8:45 AM, February 01, 2006, Blogger Matt said...

Speaking as a reader & hockey fan with no opinion on Cory Cross, I'd just like to say to both Cosh and James: if you ever find yourself writing the words "Shame on you" in a sports column, go have a nap and wake up with a better idea.

 
At 11:45 AM, February 01, 2006, Anonymous pete said...

Your average Leaf fan thinks that he's going to a parade in June 2006

Ah, the perpetuation of stereotypes. How very droll. For the record, the "average" Leaf fan is about as stupid as as the "average" hockey fan of any team, so I don't really see the need to single out delusional members of Leaf Nation. The kind of people who think Mike Ribeiro is a first-line scorer, or that Bryan Marchment still actually adds something to a team, or that the Canucks are one player away from winning a Cup, or that Doug MacLean has a keen sense for evaluating young talent exist in every city. So why the Leaf hate-on? We just have more sports radio call in shows to air these idiotic Belak-for-Crosby trade rumours than, say, Ottawa does. I can't wait till Calgary officially runs the country so Cowtown can have a turn being the big market boogeyman.

That notwithstanding, I remember when Cory Cross was kind-of, sort-of, holding out for a contract with the Leafs in about 2000 or maybe 2001. He took to practicing with the U of T Blues during his time off in the city. Word started to spread of this, to the point that more people (20) were showing up for Blues practices than would ever fess up to going to the games (6).

A friend of mine was on that team, and he'd gleefully relate to me how the players were blatantly taking runs at Cross, or intentionally trying to deke him out of his jockstrap to see how they measured up to a marginal NHL hockey player.

I think Cory Cross gets a lot of abuse because his parts seem so tempting, but their sum so disappointing. Recreational hockey leagues are full of people who are convinced that if only they had another 6 inches and/or 70 pounts, they could have broken into the NHL.

Then they turn on Hockey Night in Canada, they see Cory Cross pulling in 800K for losing a foot race to the Zamboni and they think "What a waste!"

I think that's where it comes from. Cory Cross is far from the worst defenseman the Leafs — or the Oilers for that matter — have given regular ice time to in my time as a hockey fan. Generally speaking, he doesn't hurt you in his own end more than many other players do (Wade Belak? Paging, Wade Belak?) But he has all the offsensive flair of a brick.

People pick on him because of his unassuming, galoot-like disposition. If he was out there laying people out at centre ice, people would think of him as a physical defenseman who knows his role. I'm sure he'll be a serviceable defender in Pittsburgh. Or should I say Kansas City.

 
At 1:39 PM, February 01, 2006, Anonymous Colby Cosh said...

I agree that Cross was not the problem, though when it comes to the "painful giveaways in close games" race, few are as truly fleet afoot. I just don't think you'd have found very many hard feelings toward the guy until he chose to create some. Yeah, people get booed when they screw up, but Cross's ticket to lifetime employment in Edmonton was as good as any other Oiler's. If he feels people were rough on him, he should really talk to Arnott or A.C.

 
At 1:40 PM, February 01, 2006, Anonymous Colby Cosh said...

(And I'd still rather have him back than Eric Brewer.)

 
At 1:49 PM, February 01, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

(And I'd still rather have him back than Eric Brewer.)

I don't know-Brewer looks like he's out for the season to have shoulder surgery, so if he came back to Edmonton that'd limit the damage he could do.

For the record, the "average" Leaf fan is about as stupid as as the "average" hockey fan of any team, so I don't really see the need to single out delusional members of Leaf Nation...So why the Leaf hate-on?

Because I have to live here and listen to it. Plus, it's funny that even Calgary has more Cups than Toronto since 1967.

As for why people hate the Leafs, as far as I'm concerned, that SI article was bang on, with Darcy Tucker saying something about how he has a swagger because people treat him like a movie star. It's like the Yankees without the winning. Nothing to do with my opinion of Toronto, which is that it's yesterday's city.

 
At 4:15 PM, February 01, 2006, Anonymous Jameso said...

As a casual Leafs fan during the Cory Cross years, my abiding impression of Cross was as someone outstandingly unlucky on a consistent basis. I'd cringe when he was on the ice-- not because he'd screw up like Berg does now (though he would), but because to me, he seemed so unlucky.
How many goals went in off his skates? How many clearance passes did he fan on? Probably no more than any other player of his calibre, but it seemed like a lot.

 

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