Grant Cruikshank has ice not in his veins, but in his genetic code.
Even though he decided to stray from the family business a long time ago.
Cruikshank, 19, signed his national letter of intent to play hockey for Colorado College on April 11. The group of people collected in the living room in a Milwaukee suburb looked like a who’s-who of Olympians past and future.
“Sometimes, I think we’re not just mom and dad,” his mother, Bonnie, said. “We were athletes who took it to the nth degree, and the kids respect that.”
Bonnie Blair Cruikshank is the most decorated female Winter Olympics athlete in history, securing six speedskating medals. His father, Dave Cruikshank, was a four-time Olympic speedskater.
His sister Blair, 17, qualified for the U.S. Speedskating Olympic Trials in January and has her eye on the 2022 Games.
Grant gave it a try, but his mother said he was thrown in with kids from several age groups.
“Standing on the starting line, looking at a kid probably a foot or so bigger than him, he goes, “I’m not racing him,” Bonnie recalled.
“He didn’t grasp it, and that’s fine. Go where your love is.”
Like his cousins – including Scott Polaski, who played for Colorado College from 2001 to 2005 – Grant fell headlong in love with hockey. He slept with a shinny stick instead of a teddy bear, and watched games his parents taped for him all summer.
He remembers watching Polaski in the 2005 Frozen Four. He was 6 years old, so the memories are scattered – the souvenir cups, the play of Hobey Baker winner Marty Sertich. But the experience made an impact.
“I knew a lot of the history this program had had,” Grant said. “To see the improvements they’re making and the excitement around the program, the rink they’re building, and the freshmen that are coming … I can’t wait to get started.”
Road to CC
The recruiting process, fittingly, was more like the meandering path of a hockey player around the rink than the oval of a speedskater. Grant committed to nearby Wisconsin in late 2014, but decommitted in November.
It was time to look around again. Dave Cruikshank, who owns DC Hybrid Skating and is a skating coach for the Los Angeles Kings, worked for the Chicago Blackhawks while Colorado College coach Mike Haviland was an assistant from 2008-12. He said he witnessed Haviland’s coaching style firsthand, how he makes sure to address his players’ off-ice concerns.
“He clears that other stuff off the table so when the game starts, you can have fun and play,” Dave said. “Yeah, you’re going to have your disagreements and your challenges, but you have to have respect. He respects the players and the players respect him.”
Despite these fond memories, Dave said he and Bonnie tried not to push Grant toward Colorado Springs, where they have family nearby and a long history with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“We probably did the opposite,” he said. “We just said, ‘Look, Grant, we do not want this to be the decision because we want you to go there.’”
Haviland, meanwhile, was eager to rekindle that relationship.
“There were a lot of people on (Grant) after he decommitted,” he said. “We're real fortunate to get him.”
Grant is coming off a season marred by injury. In what he called a “freak thing,” his leg was caught when he went in for contact in December, and he was limited to 25 games with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees.
But there’s many years and highlights to draw upon. He’s captained many teams, including the Vees as an American import. He’s proud of his defensive upsides – his work on the penalty kill and forecheck, creating turnovers. And, of course, his speed.
He still puts on the long blades during the summer, and occasionally wants to challenge his sister, though that’s becoming less and less of a good idea.
“Grant is a really, really good skater,” Haviland said. “This kid works. He's going to work both ends of the rink. He's going to make things happen.”
Parenthood and pucks
If Grant should ever need a reassuring word or a bit of advice, his parents are a phone call away.
His father has been “really, really involved” in his kids’ development as athletes. Bonnie, Dave says, has never been interested in the “overly technical” parts.
“He’s a good kid, and I thank my lucky stars he’s still a kid who likes his parents,” Bonnie said. “He still reaches out to us. We have good lines of communications on all things, all topics. We’ve been there for our kids as they’ve grown up, and we’re going to continue.”
Bonnie is on the board of directors for the Pettit National Ice Center, is a motivational speaker, and has dealings with the Olympic committee. And, of course, there’s the far-flung issue of “chasing after kids.”
She said acquiring more black and gold is on the agenda. The Polaski-era Tigers paraphernalia has seen better days.
“You have to divide and conquer, make sure you’re playing even fiddle,” she said of being there to follow the progress of both Grant and Blair this year.
“Have cowbells, will travel.”
They’ll be available, and close by whenever possible, as Grant Cruikshank makes his way as Grant Cruikshank. Son and brother, but also, college hockey player.
“It is nice to have that recognition, but I’d love to make a name for myself,” he said. “But everything comes along with their help, what they do for me and teach me.”