July 12, 2011

Cross' return to BC all about earning degree

by Jesse Connolly

Tommy Cross had an impressive showing at the Bruins' annual development camp. (Dave Arnold Photography)

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- If you get the sense that the name Tommy Cross has been etched on the Bruins' list of prospects for all eternity now, you're not exactly crazy.

Picked 35th overall by Boston back in 2007, the Simsbury, Conn., native has been in attendance at the B's annual development camp in each of its first five years of existence. His constant presence has even made coach Claude Julien, who arrived in Boston that same summer, feel like Cross is entrenched in the organization.

"He’s been here for four years now," Julien said. "I’ve seen him on crutches, I’ve seen him on the ice. So there’s an example of a guy that almost feels (like) a part of your organization, you know, for a whole year because you’ve seen him so often."

Throughout his first three years at Boston College, Cross has been synonymous with his well-documented knee injuries, ones that required a trio of surgeries and forced him to the sidelines for his first camp four years ago. After years of his skating and mobility being hampered, the injury woes finally appear to be behind the 21-year-old defenseman.

"Tommy’s health is a real positive sign for our group," assistant GM Don Sweeney said. "You know we were concerned about where he would be. And he looks like he’s back on track."

Knowing his knee was on the mend, Cross could've given some serious thought to making his junior year the final one he spent at BC. The 6-foot-3 blueliner has accomplished a lot during his tenure at the school, highlighted by a national championship in 2010, but unfinished business at the Heights remains.

"To get that degree is huge for me. It's very important," said Cross. "I'm three years down and I've got one left with eight classes to go. That's why I'm going back, to get that degree. It's something that coach [Jerry] York talks a lot about. I definitely think it's important."

A communications major and international studies minor, Cross didn't know for certain that he'd be able to resist the temptation to turn pro before first enrolling.

"No, I didn't know then," he said. "Sometimes you think long-term or whatever, but I was taking it a year at a time. Sometimes things speed up, sometimes things slow you down. I just know that I love where I'm at and it's a good spot to be."

Cross will be plenty busy with courses in health economics, real estate, international law and a writing-intensive communications class over these last two semesters. And while getting A's in the classroom comes first, his role as the 'C' for the Eagles is close behind.

Voted as captain for the 2011-12 season, Cross hopes to help lead his team to its third championship in the last five years. In what will be his final year before embarking on a quest to become an NHL defenseman, Cross has lofty goals.

"I've got to keep challenging myself and be a leader for my team," he said. "I've got to produce on the ice and be good every day at practice. I have to make sure I'm better in November than I was in September, and better in February than I was in November."

The Bruins know full-well that York's Eagles will be in good hands with Cross leading the way.

"Tommy’s been through some (hardship), was a second round draft choice, so he’s had some acclaim behind him in terms of where he was selected," Sweeney said. "But he’s been patient about staying in school, and he’s a captain which obviously speaks volumes. Boston College runs a hell of a program so that’s a credit to Tommy in a leadership capacity."

Whether or not his tenure as a pro player is a lengthy, illustrious one or short-lived, Cross deserves great commendation for setting himself up quite nicely for life after hockey.