As the Tampa Bay Lightning started to assemble a roster for their inaugural season in 1992, the NHL provided them and the Ottawa Senators with methods for assembling their NHL roster and providing minor league depth, allowing both teams to assemble the players needed to operate as an NHL franchise. To that end, sandwiched between the 1992 NHL Expansion Draft and the NHL Entry Draft was the NHL Supplemental Draft.
The league established the NHL Supplemental Draft as an offshoot of the NHL Entry Draft from 1986 to 1994. Teams used the Supplemental Draft to select collegiate players who were not eligible for the entry draft. It was created in response to the bidding wars between NHL teams to sign college hockey stars like Adam Oates and Ray Staazak, both of whom signed multi-year contracts with the Detroit Red Wings worth over $1 million in 1985. Only teams that did not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season were eligible for this draft, and in 1992 that included the Lightning and the Senators.
The rules for selecting a player in the supplemental draft included that the player turned 21 years or older by Dec. 31 of that year’s draft, had never been selected in the NHL Entry Draft, and had played at least one season of college hockey. While many of these players never played a game in the NHL, the Lightning hit paydirt with their first pick, selecting Cory Cross from the University of Alberta.
Cross’ Career With the Lightning
After being drafted, Cross started his professional career with the Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League in the 1993-94 season, helping the team capture the Turner Cup championship after losing only two games in the playoffs. Cross made his NHL debut with the Lightning on April 4, 1994, and scored his first NHL goal, a game-winner, on April 18, 1995, against the New Jersey Devils. After appearing in five games in his first season, Cross scored a goal and five assists in 43 games in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign.
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Cross played 336 games during his six-year career with the Lightning, scoring 12 goals. The left-handed defenseman, known as a physical player with a powerful shot, was a key contributor in the franchise’s early years. At the end of playing five full seasons with the team, Cross and a seventh-round pick were traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Fredrik Modin.
This is still one of the Lightning’s better trades in franchise history. Trading a stalwart from the organization’s early years, the team did pick up a player in Modin, that played in 445 games for the Lightning. His best season came in 2003-04 when he scored 29 goals and 28 assists in 82 games and was an important piece in helping the Lightning capture their first Stanley Cup championship.
Post-Lightning NHL Career
Cross lasted three seasons with the Maple Leafs, playing 162 games with 35 points. He did make one significant contribution to Maple Leafs’ history, which also might be the highlight of his career, when he scored the overtime-winner to defeat the Ottawa Senators in Game 3 of their first-round series during the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping to propel the team to an upset series win over the higher-seeded Senators.
After the 2002-03 season, Cross was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the New York Rangers. Cross played only 26 games in New York before being traded with Radek Dvorak to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Anson Carter and Ales Pisa. He played 113 games for Edmonton before being traded along with Jani Rita to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Dick Tarnstrom. On March 9, 2006, Cross was traded to the Red Wings for a fourth-round draft pick in 2007. After one season of playing in Germany, Cross retired from hockey.
Cross’ Life After Hockey
After hanging up his skates, Cross entered the world of business, accepting a position with R’ohan Well and Rig, a company that works in the oil and gas industry. In a 2016 interview with Shaw TV, he talked about the difficulty of transitioning from professional hockey to working in an industry and environment that he knew nothing about. “I’ve never had an employee, so I was trying to find a way to deal with certain employees.”
He also worked as an assistant coach for the University of Calgary and, later on, as an assistant coach with the British Columbia Hockey League’s West Kelowna Warriors, helping them win the RBC Cup in 2016. Along with former NHLer Wade Redden, Cross co-founded ProSmart Sports, a learning system that offers free coaching resources and management tools.
In what is now one of the more successful franchises in the NHL, Cross was one of the Lightning’s building blocks in the franchise’s early years. He will always be remembered as an important part of the team’s early history after being selected with the first Supplemental Draft pick in Lightning history and spending five quality years with the team.