April 28, 2012

Broadway hit: Former BC star Kreider sparking Rangers

By Jesse Connolly

By all accounts, it’s expected that any player making the jump from college to the pros will take some time to adjust. 

Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) had a goal and an assist in the Rangers' 3-1 win over Washington in Game 1 on Saturday. (Getty Images)

In most cases, said player has a summer to prepare, a training camp to learn the ropes and a few exhibition games to get a feel for the speed of an NHL game before he’s thrown into the fire. Chris Kreider didn’t have that luxury, but from the looks of it, the Boxford, Mass., native didn’t need it.

Just three weeks ago, the 6-foot-3, junior forward helped lead Boston College to a Frozen Four championship, capturing his second national title with the Eagles. Now, Kreider finds himself playing a pivotal role in helping the Rangers in their quest to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994.

After officially forgoing his senior season and inking an entry-level contract with the Blueshirts, Kreider immediately reported to the team and began practicing with the playoff-bound club.

"He's got a good attitude, he's a good person and I think our group is an amazing group," Brad Richards told NHL.com when asked about helping Kreider quickly fit in. "We have that type of mentality and closeness where we don't mind getting help, and getting a young kid that we know is going to be here for a long time. That's why it's such a good locker room."

On April 16, he made his NHL debut in Game 3 of New York’s first round series against the Ottawa Senators. In Game 6, with the Rangers trailing three games to two, the soon-to-be 21-year-old’s first career goal late in the second period proved to be the game-winner.

Three nights later in Game 7, coach John Tortorella’s team held a one goal lead late. With 37 seconds remaining, Ottawa’s Sergei Gonchar went to the box for tripping, allowing Tortorella to put five fresh skaters out. Joining Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh in that pivotal, pressure-packed moment was Kreider, whose strong forecheck kept the Senators pinned in for the remainder of the contest, helping New York nail down the win and advance to the next round.

"When you're that talented and you're pretty much a grown man already, it's easy for him to come in and play physical and skate, do the things that he did in college to make him successful as a pro now," Girardi said. "It's just amazing how he can skate, make things happen. I catch myself watching him from the bench. I don't know how someone can skate that fast and be so powerful. We’re lucky to have him in our lineup.”

Girardi and the rest of the Rangers undoubtedly felt the same way when Kreider led them to victory in Game 1 of their second round series against the Capitals on Saturday.

Kreider buried his second game-winner of the playoffs and added an assist just 90 seconds later, leading New York to a 3-1 win over Washington. That stellar stretch in which he racked up two points in less than two minutes in the third period prompted the sellout crowd on hand at Madison Square Garden to begin chanting his name.

“It was a surreal experience. I got goose bumps,” Kreider told the New York Times. “I was really tired after the goal, but I didn’t feel so tired when they started chanting.”

Though he’s making it look way too easy for a kid that’s barely removed from the college hockey circuit, Kreider knows it took plenty of hard work to create the opportunity he’s now taking full advantage of. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

"They made it clear that nothing was promised coming in, I had to work for whatever I got," Kreider said. "My entire life that's how I've made hockey-based decisions, where I was going to go to high school, where I was going to go to college. I didn't want things handed to me. That's not how it should be.”

As far as Tortorella is concerned, Kreider’s fully earned his chance to shine.

"All the players, they dictate their own ice time (with) how they play," Tortorella said. "What he's getting he deserves."

In giving Kreider that opportunity, Tortorella and the Rangers’ chances of winning it all have been given a big boost by a young man who was barely three-years-old the last time the Stanley Cup was paraded down Broadway.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.