NHL debut a long time coming for Bruins’ duo
DENVER — For Tommy Cross and Tyler Randell, it has been a long wait. The good friends and AHL roommates were drafted in 2007 and 2009, respectively, clawing their way up through the minors to — finally — reach an NHL roster. They signed contracts with the Bruins this summer on the same day. Cross was in Randell’s wedding party.
And they got to make their debuts together, too, taking the ice against the Avalanche on Wednesday night.
Cross was called up Tuesday for the first time after Joe Morrow was placed on injured reserve with flu-like symptoms. Randell, meanwhile, made the team out of training camp, but spent the first three games of the season in the press box.
“A little nervous, obviously excited,” Randell said. “Obviously watching the last three games, it’s crazy, just being up there, knowing I’m a part of the team. The practices, just going out there, doing everything I can to crack the lineup and I finally get my opportunity.
“Pretty nervous. It’ll be hard to take a pregame nap, but I’m sure I’ll be all right.”
Cross acquitted himself well, getting 14:25 of ice time. Randell did even better, getting his first NHL goal at 3:46 of the second period. It stood up as the game-winner.
“He was ready to play,” coach Claude Julien said of Randell. “We know he can be a good player. If he can bring some consistency like that — we know his toughness, we know he can skate, he can play, he goes to those dirty areas. And that’s why he’s still here.”
Both players have had to wait for this moment, with Cross’s road to this point having been particularly lengthy after coming out Boston College, where he was a captain. He was drafted in the second round in 2007, with the 35th overall pick, but has faced multiple knee injuries and multiple surgeries since. (And yes, he was picked eight selections higher than Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.)
“With the kind of injuries he’s had, growing up with those knee issues, he’s had to kind of reestablish the type of game that he wants to play,” Julien said of Cross. “It’s unfortunate because he had such a bright future in the direction it was going, until that set him back. But he’s kind of caught up a little here and he’s given himself a chance again to play in the NHL.”
Cross, a Simsbury, Conn., native, got the call from the Bruins while he was on the ice in Providence, where he has also been named captain, on Tuesday. It was 11:30 a.m. The flight to Colorado left at Hanscom at 1 p.m.
“I was in kind of a fluster,” Cross said. “I hopped in the shower, hopped out, went home, grabbed some stuff. I don’t even know what I packed. Of course there was traffic on the way up. But it was good. I was smiling the whole time.”
He waited until he was on the road to call his father, a call that wasn’t quite as sentimental as it might have been due to a bad cell phone connection.
Cross said he never really thought this moment wouldn’t come, even with all of the health issues that he’s had to overcome. And now, he said, that’s all well in the past.
“I remember the first day that I got the call, for him to have that experience, pretty special moment for me too to be here with him to share with him,” said Jimmy Hayes, Cross’s teammate at BC and now with the Bruins. “He’s worked hard throughout his whole career and now he’s here, fulfilling his dream.
“I’ve seen him go through a couple different injuries and he’s always bounced back and had better and better years, and it’s showing . . . He’s at the top of his game, his confidence is really high and he’s where he should be.”
Cross has spent the last three full seasons in Providence and now, at 26, appears primed for his debut.
“He’s a pretty stable defenseman that battles hard, competes hard, smart,” Julien said. “I think he moves the puck well, he sees the ice well, he’s got a great hockey sense. He had a good camp, and right now being down a left defenseman, we thought he warranted a call.”
The forward had already heard from Colorado that they were looking to sign the unrestricted free agent — and both sides thought it would be a good fit.
“When they called me a couple of weeks before I got to free agency, I said, ‘Yeah, of course, I want to sign for you,’ ” he said. “We tried to get that trade done and we did.”
Soderberg said there had been some discussions with the Bruins about a contract extension last spring, while former general manager Peter Chiarelli was still in charge, but those petered out. That left him available for Colorado, where he signed a five-year contract with a $4.75 million cap hit. He appears to be fitting in well.
“It’s a different game here,” Soderberg said. “It’s more a skill game here, so I have to adjust to that, but I think I’m doing that pretty well.”
Jarome Iginla agreed.
“His size, for our team, I think we’ve been a skill team — we have good skill, fast group — but to add his size [has been good],” Iginla said. “He’s a competitor. He’s big in the corners, in front of the net, he keeps the puck a long time. It’s been a nice fit.”
Soderberg said he was looking forward to the matchup. He had invited Loui Eriksson over to his new place in Cherry Creek, Colo., for dinner the night before, and was happy to get a chance to catch up with a few old teammates.
“It was a great time, especially the first years,” Soderberg said of his time in Boston. “First year, Final. Second year, we won the President’s Trophy. Still, I think we all know that playoff we could have made a good run. We lost Game 7 against Montreal and that was a big disappointment.
“Then last year wasn’t very fun at all. It was a hard year for all of us. We worked hard the whole year but we didn’t get anything going.”
. . . Max Talbot and Zach Trotman were the healthy scratches.