Tyson Gross grew up with a fair amount of the NHL around him.

His dad, Kevin, is the senior director of national partnerships and broadcast for the Calgary Flames.

"That was super nice — growing up we had season tickets, so we got to go and watch all those Flames games," Gross said. "I think a big part of the game is watching it and taking some things that the best players in the world are doing and adding it to your game. That was a blessing for me growing up."

He also was blessed to have some former NHL players as youth hockey coaches. Brendan Morrison, who played more than 900 games as a forward in the NHL for seven teams, former forwards Geoff Sanderson (1,104 NHL games with nine teams) and Chris Lindberg (116 games with Calgary and Quebec) all helped coach him growing up in Calgary.

"(Morrison) played at Michigan and his son (Brayden) is playing at Wisconsin and I'm good friends with him," Gross said. "That definitely got me to look more at the college route.

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"For a couple years, we had three former NHL players as our coaches and that was really nice. To get their feedback was unreal. We always had a successful team and they knew how to coach a team. It was awesome getting to learn from them."

Tyson Gross (Courtesy of United States Hockey League)
Tyson Gross (Courtesy of United States Hockey League)

Not surprisingly, one of Gross' strengths as a forward is his ability to think the game. He made the United States Hockey League's Fargo Force roster in juniors out of camp in the summer and the college recruiting of him picked up. On Oct. 17, he verbally committed to play for St. Cloud State after also visiting Arizona State.

Gross made a trip to the St. Cloud State campus on his own in September. He made his official visit to St. Cloud State on Oct. 2 and saw the Huskies' season-opening win against St. Thomas. He verbally committed to play for the Huskies on Oct. 17.

"All the facilities are top notch and the one thing that stood out a lot for me was how big of a hockey town it is and how big St. Cloud (State) hockey is there," he said. "I thought it would be a super cool experience, seeing how passionate all the students are and the local people are is really cool to see.

"I wanted to explore all my opportunities and options and get to see what every school brought to the table," Gross said. "Honestly, I just had a gut feeling with St. Cloud with the coaching staff, how successful they've been throughout the years.

"I went to visit Arizona State with one of my friends a couple weekends ago to compare St. Cloud to there. Obviously, two very different schools. Being from Canada, I like to compare it to Minnesota with how big hockey is there. It's a little more what I'm used to and I thought it would be a cool experience playing there."

Getting on the radar during the pandemic

Gross got onto the NCAA Division I recruiting radar after not playing in many games last season due to the pandemic. He had five points in seven games for the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2020-21. The AJHL was shut down for the majority of the season due to Canada's COVID-19 restrictions.

Even with limited games, Gross said that it was a good season of development for him.

"It was tough as far as the recruiting process because nobody from the US was really able to come up and watch our games," he said. "It was a roller coaster of emotion, starting our regular season and then, two games in, our season gets shut down for I think 3-4 months. Being there three months earlier, practicing and intrasquad games and we played exhibition games ... But it was mostly competing against your teammates for a couple months, which gets old after a little bit.

"It kind of gave us an opportunity to have more time in the gym, get bigger and stronger, which is something I'm trying to work on. That part was nice. Having a lot of time to work on your own stuff — we had a lot of skills sessions."

Gross said that St. Cloud State associate head coach Dave Shyiak made his first contact with him during last season. Gross was not taken in the Phase II of the USHL Draft, but was invited to camp with the Fargo Force.

Tyson Gross (26) moves to get into position as teammate Tanner Walos (13) handles the puck with Patrick O'Connell (24) of the Aberdeen Wings in pursuit at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. )Courtesy of Sean Rice/Fargo Force)
Tyson Gross (26) moves to get into position as teammate Tanner Walos (13) handles the puck with Patrick O'Connell (24) of the Aberdeen Wings in pursuit at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. )Courtesy of Sean Rice/Fargo Force)

Almost not going to Fargo

There were some factors that made him unsure about going to Fargo's camp initially.

"I actually wasn't going to come with all of the travel restrictions with Canada and the US and having to go through a 14-day isolation," Gross said of returning to Canada. "I ended up coming because they ended up changing it so that you didn't have to do a 14-day isolation if you were double vaccinated. I got my second vaccine and it would kick in the day we came back from camp.

"I came down with not really a plan to play here. Having the college exposure (in the USHL), which I really didn't have last year, just at the camp from college scouts watching would be nice. Then I did really well at camp and they wanted me to come back for training camp. It went on from there."

The Force reached the Clark Cup Finals last season under head coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureaux, who decided to leave junior hockey after the end of the season. He was replaced by Scott Langer, who had spent the previous 17 seasons as a head coach in the North American Hockey League.

Langer was impressed by what the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Gross showed in camps.

"He grew on us through training camp and had an excellent showing at the USHL Fall Classic and he's turned into a nice player," Langer said of Gross, who has a game-winning goal, two assists, four penalty minutes and is a plus-2 in five games. "He has the ability to make plays under pressure. For a player that didn't play very much last year due to the COVID situation, that was impressive.

"He's got a very good brain on his shoulders. He thinks the game very, very well. He always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. He also seems to get himself into situations to score goals. He's not going to be a one-dimensional centerman that all he does is distribute. If you have a guy on his line who can score, he's going to have the ability to find him. But at the same time, he's going to score big goals."

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Growing up in Calgary, Gross was also exposed to major junior hockey because the Calgary Hitmen play in the Western Hockey League. Gross, however, was never taken in the WHL draft and he considers that a good thing now.

"I never had the opportunity to play there. If I did, I probably would have taken it," he said of an option, which does not allow players to play US college hockey. "I'm kind of happy now, looking at college now. That's something I'm more interested in now. I'm thankful that WHL opportunity didn't come."

Going to college also pleases his mom, Natalie, who is a teacher and grew up in Montreal. Gross attended a French immersion school growing up and is bilingual. He plans to major in business marketing in college, but he is not in a rush to get there.

Because of his age, Gross has another year of junior hockey eligibility remaining after this season. He said he wants to go to St. Cloud State at the right time during his development.

"I want to come in and be an impact player right away and I'm a big believer in development," he said. "If I feel like I don't have the greatest year this year, I'd come back and have another year in Fargo and do really well and then I'd come in and be really ready.

"If I have a good year and I feel like I'm ready, I'd totally be all right with the jump to college hockey next year. It's a little early right now."