If you think the annual Big Assist exhibition hockey match is part Ice-Capades, part day-off coast around the rink for pro’s and pro prospects, don’t tell Rangers’ rookie Chris Kreider, for one.
“I don’t really think there’s any point in my life where I’ve just been able to just kind of, kick-back,” said Kreider, breaking into a smile as broad as his stride. “I don’t think I’m good enough to kick-back.”
The spectators thought different. They thought he was great.
Kreider’s hardest work might have come post-game — certainly that’s when he was happily trapped inside the boards with what seemed a never-ending shift — in Big Assist IV at Terry Conners in Stamford on Wednesday night.
Because, that is when, big-hit-with-the-kids 6-3, 230 presence Kreider — a singular rookie Blueshirts bright light from last season’s playoffs and national champ BC Eagles top scorer — from the ice, signed autographs well after the event; running the plexiglass-pressed gauntlet of fans lined down the length of the rink.
“Oh, this is what it’s all about,” Kreider, from Boxford, Mass. said. “But it’s still highly competitive. I mean, it’s high-end shinny — I’m not good at it. So it’s fun to play.
“And it’s NHL hockey players — so you could see — guys tested the waters, but, it got pretty competitive as the game went on.”
Kreider’s 2011-12 was about as competitive as it gets, hopping directly from the NCAA championship into blue, white and red on a long-hot trail to the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals that he contributed to with five goals, seven points in 18 games, before the Devils put the Rangers away in six.
“It was pretty crazy — I mean, it was a very special experience,” Kreider said. “It kind of just made me want more, though.”
Boston College could not have wanted more from him, scoring 23 goals, 45 points, in 44 games.
“I really didn’t have time to think,” said Kreider. “I signed a contract, they whisk me away, next thing I know, I was in New York.”
Long as his season turned out, like he says, he wanted more.
“It ended so prematurely, or at least what we thought was prematurely,” he said. “So, it’s back to work.”
And as long as his season was on thrills, come Sept., and training camp, it stays all business, looking to rookie-back-up for what he hopes will be the long haul.
“Now I’ve got to try to make the team,” he said. “I was lucky enough to come in with — I only played 40 (plus) games (with BC) — I was relatively fresh.
“That pace — I’ve got to prove that I can make the team, and help the team.”
“It shows you what it takes,” Kreider said of being shot straight into the Stanley Cup hunt on Broadway. “It shows you how hard guys work. If anything, it puts the fear of God in you. Because, it’s the highest level possible.
“You’re working so hard, you kind of see the level that you have to get to.”
If his call-up to the NHL was something like hockey shock treatment, his call to boost the latest Big Assist was of course nothing of the kind.
“Ryan Shannon contacted me — we played together at World Championships — he was my roommate,” Kreider said. “Unbelievable guy. I mean — he’s a BC guy, so of course he’s going to be great.”
Even an Eagle-eye fraternity’s not so blind as that.
“No, I’m just kidding, but, he’s an awesome guy, and you can tell just from everything he’s done with this,” Kreider added. “And so I jumped at the opportunity. I know a bunch of the guys already down here. It’s a good opportunity to see some of them.
“But at the same time obviously it’s an unbelievable cause, and one that’s near and dear to me.”
Kreider has both dear, and maybe more enduring, but not so dear moments too from the Stanley Cup playoffs, that he’d prefer were not so near.
“Which is the most memorable moment? Or which is the one that sticks with me?” he said cued for lasting impressions from last spring.
“I think there’s a positive and a negative,” he said. “And I think the negative will probably stick with me more than the positive; which I think is always the case.”
Fuel for the fire. And you’ve got to have something like nuclear fuel to get anywhere in this business.
“I think watching the goal go in against the Devils — I think, the turnover and the poor game I had against the Capitals — I think that is probably what is going to stick with me,” said Kreider, with a granite-like resolve — unspoken, but chiseled into his voice, still — to keep away from regrets as his career resumes.
Yet, kinder recollections are bound to end up being the ones that stick.
“But, most memorable and special to me. I think that (was) after we won in Ottawa, game six, my dad was able to make the trip,” Kreider said. “And it was kind of last minute. And that meant a lot to me — being able to come out, and see him — very emotional.
“I mean, there was a lot, I think for pretty much all the guys on the team, just because of the nature of the run. We went deep in every single series we played. And there were a lot of ups and downs.”
Top of the ups?
“I think just being able to enjoy that with my friends and my family, who made an effort to get down to some of those games.”