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On the Straight and Narrow

Dec 13, 2023
Written By: Mark Newman

Cross Hanas has long had his sights on a path that he hopes will lead to the National Hockey League.

Photo by Mark Newman

Cross Hanas was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and grew up in Dallas, Texas, neither place recognized as the quintessential home to budding hockey players.

But the Red Wings prospect was blessed with a propitious pedigree. His father, Trevor Hanas, was a Western Canadian product who played several years of professional hockey in the States, first with the Peoria Rivermen in the ECHL for two seasons and then two more with the Topeka Scarecrows in the CHL, before finishing his career in 2001-02 with the CHL's Tulsa Oilers.

Determined to dispel the disbelievers and negate all naysayers, Cross Hanas credits his upbringing for making him the player – and the person – he is today.

From almost the time that he was pushed in a stroller, a puck was his proverbial pacifier, a mini stick his indispensable security blanket. Later, he would find contentment on rollerblades in the garage or street hockey on the driveway.

Hockey was more likely to be the topic of conversation at the dinner table than the weather for Cross and brother Cru, much to the chagrin of their mom, Kim, and younger sister, Grace, who were clearly outnumbered.

Cross, along with Cru (who is three years his junior), was obsessed with watching hockey videos. "We were kind of hockey nerds when we were younger, for sure," said Hanas, who grew attached to his iPad. "I can't even remember how many times we tried to recreate plays and the goals we had watched."

There was always plenty of encouragement and advice from dad, too. Trevor Hanas posted his best numbers during his rookie pro season when he tallied 20 goals and 32 assists in 62 games for Peoria.

"It's always good to have a father figure who played the game and understands how hard it is to make it to a high level," Hanas said. "Literally since I started playing hockey, he's been there, coaching and helping mold me into the player I am."

Hanas said his father never let him take the easy road out.

"I'd say he pushed me pretty hard, especially when I was younger," Hanas said. "He pushed me when I didn't really want to work hard on the ice. I thought I could just score goals and stuff, but he harped on me quite a bit when I was younger that it's not going to be the only thing you do. Scoring goals isn't the only way you're going to make it to the highest level."

Although a lifelong mentor, his father was actually his youth team's head coach only briefly. "My mom kind of put an end to it," Hanas recalled.

"We're both really passionate guys about the game and sometimes he'd bench me and then I'd yell back at him. There was some bickering going on, and sometimes we would bring it back home and my mom didn't like it, so she put an end to it and he just became a dad for the rest of the time."

Keeping the peace in the Hanas household was easier said than done whenever there was a competitive game in the works.

"Me and my dad and my brother grew up playing a lot of cribbage, the game with the pegs and the cards," Hanas said. "Sometimes those games got pretty heated, especially if one guy was winning and he was chirping and stuff. My brother would usually sit back and just observe.

"But my dad knew he could always harp on me quite a bit. We knew we'd have some battles, but we would get over it. Things would often get intense, but it was always fun."

There could have been scriptural references to Matthew 5:9 -- "Blessed are the peacemakers." In the Hanas household, you could be excused for wearing your heart on your sleeve. After all, you don't name your kids Cross, Crusade, and Grace, and then be bashful about your Christian faith.

"Obviously, the main goal in our life is to follow God's way. That's what we learned growing up," Hanas explained. "We learned that it's important to be a good person, and love everybody. I mean, we apply our faith to everything in our lives because it's the most important thing.

"At the end of the day, hockey is just a game, and it's not going to be here forever. The most important thing is God, and our faith, and just being great people, loving everybody, and, yeah, doing the right thing."

Finding balance extended to athletic pursuits as well. Hanas played a couple of years of flag football for fun and he played high-level baseball until high school. He always played shortstop, although he tried pitching once. "I had one pitch in my career," he said. "It was a little chopper back to me to end the inning and then I went back to shortstop right after."

He stopped playing baseball when hockey started getting serious. His father instilled the idea that if you're going to do something, you have to make the commitment necessary to excel at every step of the process.

"He kind of laid it all out when I was a super young age," Hanas said. "It was 'You're going to have to do this to get here' or 'Do this to get here' and keep building and building and building. It was all these next-step type mentalities. There were goals we had year after year as well as the long-term goals we always had, too."

It's the same philosophy that drove his dad to help incrementally build hockey in the Lone Star State.

"When I was growing up, we had a lot of really good players back in Dallas, but nowadays it's just crazy," he said. "It's nuts to see how far the sport has come from the very start when I was young. Some of the teams are in the top 10 in the nation every year."

Hanas found inspiration from hometown product Seth Jones. The Arlington, Texas, native was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft after playing one year of junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks, the WHL team that also employed Hanas' father as a scout.

"Deep down, I wanted to play in the WHL my whole life because I had watched Seth Jones go to Portland and then his younger brother, Caleb, went there a couple of years before me. My dad had played in the WHL and so did my uncle, Jason Clague, who was a goalie for Red Deer, and my cousin, Kale Clague, who is in the Buffalo Sabres organization after playing for Brandon and Moose Jaw.

"Not too many WHL teams scout American kids, so I was super excited to talk to a couple of teams. When the draft came and Portland selected me, I knew that's exactly where I wanted to be and that it was all God's plan."

In Portland, Hanas was able to learn from a veteran coaching staff that had decades of experience at all levels of hockey. Longtime Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston had been head coach of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins after several seasons as an assistant/associate coach with the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings. Associate coach Don Hay had been behind the bench for nearly four decades, including time as the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes and Calgary Flames.

"At 16 years old, to have those guys as your coaches, it's just a huge blessing," Hanas said. "Everything we did was straight business and it was all about hockey and development, from how to present yourself at the rink to how to be a pro. They also have a winning mentality that shows in their record year after year. The organization is so professional -- it's just top-notch."

In Portland, Hanas developed his two-way play while continuing to fine-tune his offensive abilities. During his overage year, Hanas recorded 26 goals and 60 assists for 86 points in 63 games, but it was his defensive play where he showed the most progress.

"I was at the age where you really need to learn how to play defense and take it seriously," he said. "Playing defense will help win games and will get you further than just scoring goals. You have to be a multi-dimensional player in order to succeed at the highest level."

Getting drafted by the Red Wings was obviously a big thrill. Detroit selected Hanas in the second round (55th overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

"It was one of the long-term goals that my dad and I had talked about. I was really young, maybe 8 years old, when we started talking about my draft year being 2020, and every year we were one year closer to that goal."

Getting selected in the draft was confirmation of years of planning. It made Hanas a believer in the value of being committed.

"When the year finally comes, you look back on all those years growing up – just how hard you worked and how you were coming from a market that nobody expects will be relevant in the draft class. Because of COVID, we didn't go to the draft, but we had a big draft party at my house and a lot of the family from Illinois flew in.

"My dad and I wanted to do something special with some of the younger kids in the Dallas hockey program who are really good players. We wanted to have them come to the house and experience the draft with us. We wanted to show them the joy that comes after so much hard work.

"So we invited several kids and their families to be a part of the draft with us. It was super cool because I saw these kids around the rink a lot and whenever I saw them on the ice, I understood why they were so much better than I was at their age."

Hanas wasn't sure which team was going to pick him, but he had a hunch that he was on Detroit's draft list.

"As the draft was getting closer and closer, you could tell some teams were more interested than others," he said. "I had met with the Wings a few times, so I was feeling pretty good about that. And sure enough, they took me in the second round and that was just another huge blessing in my life."

When he signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Detroit, it was another step on the path set years earlier by Hanas and his father. He appeared in two preseason games with the Wings before the 2022-23 season.

His first exhibition appearance was in Pittsburgh against the Penguins and Evgeny Malkin, his favorite player growing up.

Malkin received the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 by defeating the Red Wings 2-1 in Game 7 of the Final. His 36 points (14 goals and 22 assists) were the highest playoff total since Wayne Gretzky amassed 40 points in 1993.

"I always liked Malkin. I just liked the way he played," said Hanas, who has always worn Malkin's #71 in his honor. "My dad flew up for the preseason game that morning and he got a pretty cool picture of me and Malkin kinda standing next to each other on the ice."

Hanas made his professional debut with the Griffins last season. He tallied seven goals in his first 13 games, then injured his shoulder the day after Thanksgiving.

"I was out for about seven weeks, came back, and then a couple of weeks later I blew out the other shoulder. It happened in Texas. I went to hit [Stars defenseman Alex] Petrovic and I ended up pushing my arm out of the socket and had a posterior and anterior labrum tear, along with a little chip in my scapula bone. I had to have surgery."

Hanas admits that he took the news hard.

"I'm a pretty passionate person, and I love playing the game, and I've never really been hurt before," he said. "It was really frustrating because I was having a good year and I wanted to keep going and keep proving to people what I can do.

"Unfortunately, I had to take a step back, look at the big picture, get my shoulder redone, and start the rehab process. I had to have the same mentality that I would play a game, only for a different reason. So I decided I was going to work as hard as I could so I would be able to play again as soon as possible."

He admits that he leaned on his faith during the process.

"That was something me and my dad talked about," he said. "Obviously it sucks that it happened, but being a young kid who was still growing and trying to get stronger, all the doctors said that once I rehabbed it, it should be way stronger than it was before.

"We took that as a blessing in disguise and ran with it. It gave me an extra five or six months of an offseason to work on my overall strength too, not just my shoulder, and try to put on some weight and build more strength. I put on a good 12-14 pounds of muscle, so I was feeling really good when I came back."

His mom came up from Texas to help with cooking and other little things that were a chore right after the surgery. "I was living with Seth Barton at the time and he helped, too, but she hung out with me for a few days when I was down and out," he said.

Hanas admits that he felt a bit rusty coming into this season.

"Being off the ice for a long period of time, everything's not going to come right back to you, and the first thing I found out was the game felt a lot faster right now," he said. "You can only do so much conditioning off the ice, but nothing compares to being on the ice.

"I knew that I probably wasn't going to start the way that I ended, so I'm just trying to get that confidence back, knowing that I can score goals in this league, and be an effective player for our team. That's the main goal I have right now."

Despite the Griffins' slow start this season, Hanas is confident that everything will eventually come together. He feels that there are a number of players on the team who could be playing together for a long time.

"We're having a good time, getting to bond with each other because, hopefully, we will be teammates for quite a while, whether it's here or in Detroit. It's the core group that's been talked about for the past couple of years, and we get to be together now, which is really fun.

"Turning pro is super hard because you're now playing against guys a few years older and some guys who have kids of their own, and the strength and the speed goes to an absolute another level, as well the time and space on the ice is just so much shorter. It's a really tough adjustment, but obviously, everybody goes through it. You've got to realize that you're good enough to be here."

Hanas knows he has a lot of work still to do if he is going to reach the last step in the plan that he and his dad set forth.

"Of course, that's everybody's goal and like everybody says, it's really, really hard to get there, but it's even harder to stay there. And I know that, everyone knows that, and even if you get the opportunity, you just gotta give it your all, and do your best.

"We have a really good group of young guys, and we're all good buddies and get along really well, plus we have great older guys on our team who help us, mentor us, and try to teach us the right ways. Everybody has been awesome.

"It's a pretty cool thing to be a part of, and hopefully something we all stay a part of for a while."