This weekend is the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida. Leading up to this weekend's events, we're chatting with one player from each of the teams involved. Look for interviews through Thursday. Today, it's Chris Kreider of the Boston College Eagles.
Chris Kreider grew up in Boxford, Mass., about 30 minutes from Boston. He wanted to play in the Beanpot, the annual college tournament featuring the four Boston-area universities: Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern, and Harvard. He also was a Bruins fan growing up.
So during the 2009 NHL Draft and the New York Rangers on the clock at No. 19, was he secretly hoping to slide just a few more spots to No. 25 where the Bruins were sitting?
"I was secretly hoping to get picked," Kreider said with a chuckle during a phone interview last Wednesday. "It didn't matter to who or when, I wanted to get picked, and even if I hadn't, either way it was a great experience. I just wanted to kind of cherish it and appreciate it for what it was at the time."
The NHL world will be hearing a lot more about Kreider as soon as Boston College's season ends. With his junior year coming to an end, there's been plenty of speculation about whether or not he'll leave school and sign with the Rangers.
He led the Eagles in scoring this year with 22 goals and 43 points in 42 games and has been a mainstay with Team USA, playing in the last World Championships and World Junior Champions, including the 2010 gold medal-winning team.
We spoke with Kreider about the upcoming game against Minnesota, the unpredictability of the NCAA tournament, being involved in the Rick Nash trade rumors, and playing hockey in a German soccer stadium. Enjoy.
Q. What do you guys know about Minnesota right now?
KREIDER: We know they're a very good team. We know they're a very deep team. They like to roll all four lines, kind of similar to us. We know that they've got a very strong attack. They've got probably one of the best offenses in the nation. They're right up there with Minnesota-Duluth. We haven't really been able to watch any film yet, but as we learn more about them we'll try to focus on what we can do to stop them from scoring goals.
This is the first time you're going to see them this year. Are you talking to buddies from teams who have played them this season or is it mostly just watching tape?
Like you said, we talk to guys that we know or played with prior to college. A lot of that goes on over the course of the tournament. When we were about to play Minnesota-Duluth guys on our team guys were talking to guys we might of played juniors with about what to expect. There's a lot of communication going on. I personally know a bunch of guys on Minnesota. I'm a little more aware of them than I was of Minnesota-Duluth. A lot of us have played with growing up or against kids on Minnesota, so we know what they're capable of.
On your side of the bracket between Boston College and Minnesota there are 26 drafted players and between Union and Ferris State zero. Does that speak to the unpredictability of this tournament every year?
Yeah, I think so. I think it also speaks to the way all four teams are built. A lot of kids for Union and for Ferris State, obviously two incredible teams that kids probably came on a little later, maybe played under the radar, but are figuring out and becoming really, really great players. They've got a bunch of some of the most highly-touted free agents. I think it's just a different for all four teams.
There was a little inconsistency in November and December and now you guys haven't lost since late-January. Was there a moment that turned things around?
The Maine weekend. We had two games up at Maine. It kind of opened up our eyes. We got swept (4-3 in OT and 7-4). We were beaten pretty handily in both games. From there on out a lot of things changed.
How has Coach York made you a better player these last couple of years?
He just really helps his players to exact their fullest potential. Me personally, he's helped me focus on the little things. I've become much more defense-first player. Definitely not a liability anymore in the defensive zone like I probably was. He just kind of molds complete players and players to help the team win.
The big debate the last few years has been players going the college route versus playing junior hockey in Canada. For you, how has the choice of college hockey helped you?
For me it really wasn't a choice because I grew up in the Boston area and grew up watching the Beanpot and all these Boston-area colleges, so that was something I always wanted to do. At the same time from a developmental standpoint it was also a no-brainer because I needed to develop. I needed more practice time. It's really worked out I think.
Your name was attached with the Rick Nash-to-New York Rangers trade rumors. Were you following all that? What did you think hearing your name attached to such a potential mega-deal?
To be honest I wasn't following it too closely. A couple guys on the team would bring it up here and there in a jab, just kind of giving me a hard time about it. But at the same time, just to be mentioned is an honor. Obviously it would of been a pretty blockbuster deal to get one player.
There's been so much speculation about your future plans once this season is over with. How do you go about focusing on the Frozen Four without the off-ice stuff affecting you?
At this point it's not very hard. This is the Frozen Four. It's something I've dreamt of getting to all year ... all my life to be honest. It's where we want to be, so it's very hard to be distracted at this point.
You had the opportunity to play in the last two World Championships. Playing with the NHL guys, what did you take away from those experiences?
A lot. Almost too many things to list. My first year, when I was 18, it was a lot of off-ice stuff and how guys carried themselves and conducted themselves away from the rink and in the locker room. Last year was the way guys played and the way guys prepared and the way guys performed on the ice.
Playing that opening game in Germany in front of 77,000 fans inside a soccer stadium ... was that a little intimidating?
I wouldn't say so much intimidating, but exciting. Going into it I didn't have a whole lot to lose. I was just happy to be there and just wanted to help out anyway I could. I was just kind of awestruck and wide-eyed. I remember we were using special ceremonial pucks in warmups that were supposed to be auctioned off. Guys were obviously locked in and ready to go and so was I, but it was hard not to take a couple of peeks at the crowd just to see how large it was.
Is there an NHL player you try and model your game after?
I don't think there's one in particular. There's a lot of different things I draw from different players. I like to try and be my own player. There's definitely a few things that I look at others players and I say, "Wow, I want to do that just like him" and draw all that together. I think [Jaromir] Jagr's ability to protect the puck, having played against him, is something that I definitely need and constantly try and get better at. [Sidney] Crosby's ability to get so low when he skates, just how he is on his edges. Obviously [Alex] Oveckin's one-on-one play.
Bigger personal achievement: gold at the 2010 World Juniors or the 2010 NCAA title?
I don't think you can say one of those is bigger. They're just different. The national championship run is a body of work over the duration of a season. That's definitely a different challenge than getting a group of guys that don't really know each other to perform the way we did in a short tournament format. Both were very awesome experiences for myself and great experiences I'll cherish the rest of my life, but I really can't compare the two.
Coming up tomorrow: Nick Bjugstad of Minnesota.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy