By Larry Wigge
Why not me?
Chris Kreider sat in the New York Rangers locker room wondering, "Why not me?"
The 22-year-old Boxford, Mass., native, said every one of his teammates wanted to be the hero.
So there he was, going for the net. Kreider said he didn't have to holler at teammate Rick Nash. He was fighting off Boston defender Doug Hamilton, when he put his stick down strong on the ice and Nash's pass found it. Right on the tape for a deflection high into the net behind Tukka Rask for the winner ... 7:03 into sudden death for a 4-3 victory over the Bruins to stave off elimination in the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series.
"It was an unbelievable pass," Kreider explained. "He just laid it on my tape. I probably could've closed my eyes and it would've found my tape ...."
He paused for a minute. Breathed a sigh of relief, before finishing his thought.
"It is so surreal. It's not something that can really be explained, it's something that just has to be felt," he said of the bang, bang play that put an end to the game. "I think everyone wants to give their team an opportunity to play another game.
"There definitely is NO quit in this room."
Said coach John Tortorella, half-joking, "I'm so happy for Krieds. You guys have been kicking my ass about not playing him more all year."
Kreider had come right off the Boston College campus to score five goals in 18 playoff game for the Rangers last year. But, well, he came out of Tortorella's doghouse -- he had just two goals and one assists in 23 games -- to maybe get the coach's attention with his work ethic.
What you want most in a hockey prospect is a pedigree. How is his hockey IQ? Does he bring along all the intangibles -- hard work and drive and passion? Does he play and act like a winner?
The Rangers drafted Kreider in the first round, 19th overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Amid plenty of hype. Why not. He's a 6-3, 217-pound left winger, every team is looking for a good power forward.
Twice in has last three seasons at BC, Kreider helped the Eagles celebrate national championships. He scored a goal in the 2010 NCAA title game for BC as they defeated the University of Wisconsin. He also scored six goals for the gold medal winning United States World Junior Championship team in 2010. Kreider was chosen to represent the United States once again at the 2011 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, and led the team with four goals in six games as the USA won the bronze medal. Two of his goals were scored in the bronze medal game, and he was named the USA's best player for that game.
Ironically, he took the pass from Rick Nash -- many Rangers fans thought the team would have to give up Krieder in a package for Nash while he was still with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Now, the Rangers have them both.
In Game 6 last year, even though Kreider against the Ottawa Senators, he scored the game-winner -- on a wrist shot from the left circle -- in a 3-2 victory.
"He has no fear. That's what I like about him," Tortorella said. "The biggest thing is his mindset. He's not here to test the waters. He's here to make a difference."
Pressure packed games made of a youngster like Kreider.
Winger Derek Stepan echoed that.
"He's got great legs. That's what makes Chris effective," he said. "He skates onto pucks and he creates loose pucks. He did it all night for us."
If he's looking to overcome an obstacle, Kreider grew six inches between his 9th and 10th grade seasons. That growth sport, took a smaller and yet competitive to the prime size as well.
Like most of those career-born players -- self-made players with the proper upbringing.
At the back of Dave and Kathy Kreider's garage in Boxboro, Mass., you can find any gadget available to a young boys heart. There's a pitchback screen, a lacrosse net and a soccer goal nestled in the corner.
Yes, there's also a well-worn hockey net, one that has been battered so much that the top crossbar is warped.
"I can tell him where to shoot it," said Kathy. "Chris would hit it exactly where I ask him to every time."
His parents can see their son practicing his trade -- whatever the sport it may be.
Goal! Goal! Goal!
Each blast that has left a reminder on that crossbar or one of the posts -- not to mention the thousands he's driven into the twine of that same net.
At the scouting combine in Toronto, he laughed at all the tests -- hardly what Kreider expected a hockey player to do.
"And you do it all with a smile on your face; it's a little like the Miss America Pageant," he said with a chuckle.
Chris will never forget his love of soccer, football, baseball, lacrosse, tennis, golf, volleyball.
"But those are just games. Hockey's a sport," Kreider said.
We won't argue the virtues of the other sports. Chris made his choice -- and hockey was it. It has created the pedigree we talked about earlier at Boston College, United States team in the World Junior and now the New York Rangers.
For Chris Kreider, the self-motivated, career-born player, he's starred against older, stronger competition at every turn by challenging himself.
He's still challenging himself, wanting to get out of his coach's doghouse.
Maybe this will do it.