S. Burlington Monday, May 4th
BURLINGTON, Vt. - Jim Cross, the former longtime head coach of the UVM men's hockey team, known as the 'Father of UVM Hockey', died this weekend from complications from COVID-19. He was 87.
"He's the guy.", said former UVM coach Mike Gilligan. "He's the founder. He's the guy a lot of hockey coaches should emulate, Jim Cross."
Jim Cross joined the UVM men's hockey team in 1964 as an assistant under Vermont's first coach, Bill Ruffer, in the program's second season. One year later, Cross became head coach, a post he would hold for the next 19 seasons. Mike Gilligan, who succeeded Cross as Vermont's head coach in 1985, competed against him as both coach and player and had the utmost respect for Cross' approach to the game.
"Jim was kind of a revolutionary guy in terms of practices, diet, and training. He was ahead of all the others.", said Gilligan. "His teams pushed the puck up the ice. They wouldn't mess with it in their own zone. They were kind of a high flying team, but very well disciplined."
On the ice, it took Cross just three seasons to lead Vermont to its first winning record. Two years later, in 1970, the Cats won their first ECAC Division Two title. That kicked off a run of four D-2 conference championships in five seasons. The season after that last D-2 title, 1974-75, Cross took the UVM program up to Division One.
"That was a big, big step for the program.", said Gilligan. "And if Jimmy didn't spend his own cash and his own Sundays up in Quebec, and with Contacts he had in Massachusetts in Minnesota I don't know how he could have done it."
The Cats went 24-12 in that first season in Division One, finishing third in the ECAC, but had just one more winning season in Cross' final nine years behind the bench. Still, the foundation had been set, and throughout the high and lows of seasons since, fans have continued to pack Gutterson Fieldhouse. The building of that passion for hockey, at UVM and in the community that supports it, may be Jim Cross' greatest gift to Cat Country.
"The tradition started with Jim,", said Gilligan. "The sellouts and the emotion were something that he kicked off."