BERLET SPOTLIGHT: KREIDER GROWING

BY: Bruce Berlet, Exclusive to Howlings

CROMWELL, Conn. – Chris Kreider says he’s focused on improving his hockey skills while on temporary leave to the Connecticut Whale, but he still has an eye on the NHL – on several fronts.

Kreider obviously would like to rejoin the parent New York Rangers as soon as possible after helping them reach the Eastern Conference finals this spring after leading Boston College to a second national championship in three years.

Kreider, who had five goals and two assists in 18 playoff games while playing some with Rangers stars Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, is in the AHL because the NHL and NHL Players’ Association couldn’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement by Sept. 15, causing a second lockout in eight years.

Kreider is the only Rangers player to join the Whale and could have more insight into the NHL’s labor dispute than anyone in the AHL. The speedy, 6-foot-3, 225-pound left wing is doing an independent study project at Boston College on the CBA and labor negotiations to earn three of the 12 credits he needs to finish his degree. He is working with Professor Warren Zola, an assistant dean for graduate studies in the Carroll School of Managament at BC who helps out with the Eagles athletic department and has advised numerous student-athletes who have successfully continued their careers in the NFL.

Kreider also keeps in touch with Rangers goalie Martin Biron, the team’s player representative who keeps most of the Blueshirts players informed via text messages and phone calls. Barring a sudden change of heart, Kreider will be with the Whale and texting Biron at least until December as the NHL has canceled 326 games – 26.5 percent of the season – from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30.

“I keep hearing about (the lockout) and try to follow it, but I don’t really have an opinion,” said Kreider, 21, the Rangers’ first-round pick (19th overall) in 2009 who is in the second year of the three-year, entry-level contract that he signed April 10. “But while I have an interest, my main concern is right here with the Whale.”

That declaration was demonstrated in spades on Tuesday when he was the last player to leave the ice after practice, taking passes from Jason Wilson, who was wearing sneakers while recovering from a second foot surgery, and firing dozens of shots on an empty net at the west end of the Champions Skating Center.

Kreider’s interest in the independent study was piqued by Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, who did a similar project when he was a freshman at Boston College during the last NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. Kreider said there’s no set number of hours a week that he has to put in toward the independent study, which enables him to expand his horizons and remain informed about another subject that he has become passionate about.

“It’s basically going to come down to a pretty extensive paper,” Kreider said. “There are certain things that I have to kind of develop and carry out. I follow it along and get a lot of emails from people regarding articles and stuff, so when it comes time I’ll have a good body of literature that I can look back on. I might do some of the paper if I have some down time at the start of the (NHL) season, but what’s nice about an independent study is that you can do it when you want to do it. Ultimately you have to do the work, but there’s no real deadline.”

Kreider’s time with the Whale is an extension of his most exciting and successful year in hockey so far. He understandably had a hard time staying off the ice in the summer after winning the second national championship and then getting within two wins of the Stanley Cup finals as the Rangers lost in six games to the New Jersey Devils.

Kreider was scheduled to attend his first NHL training camp at the Rangers training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., but he and several other top prospects and new players on the Whale were the show as they practiced, scrimmaged and played four preseason games under the watchful eye of the Blueshirts brass and many others associated with the NHL.

Though many players were fighting hard for jobs, it couldn’t duplicate the intensity of the NHL playoffs that Kreider experienced in the spring, a rare baptism under fire for someone who had just completed his junior year of college. But with so many top NHL prospects in the minors as in 2004-05, some have joked this again is the AHL on steroids.

“I had heard how hard of a league it was and thought it was going to be very difficult,” said Kreider, who has one goal and three assists in six games while being used in all situations. “Right now, it’s the best league in the world – at least that’s what I’m told – and the AHL is a very good league. I didn’t have any real expectations going in and didn’t know that to expect, so I’ve just tried to keep my head down and work hard.”

Kreider had his first hat trick since high school in the Whale’s preseason finale and notched his first multiple-point regular-season game in the AHL on Sunday, making a NHL move to set up Ryan Bourque’s second goal in as many nights and then scoring his first goal in a 6-3 victory over the Providence Bruins. Six different players scored and 12 got on the scoresheet as the Whale (3-3-1-0) won their third in a row and got to .500 for the first time this season.

When asked if he has been satisfied with his play so far, Kreider smiled and said, “I’ve been satisfied with the past three wins, which were nice after our start. We have a lot of young guys, but it’s a fun group. And it’s always nice to be getting contributions from a lot of people.”

WHALE AT ALBANY ON FRIDAY, HOME TO FALCONS ON SUNDAY

The Whale will try to extend their winning streak to four games Friday night when they return to Albany, where they began an unbeaten week with a 5-2 victory last Wednesday night as Jason Missiaen made 31 saves in his first AHL win. The Devils (2-4-0-0) rebounded to beat the Adirondack Phantoms 5-1 for their first home win in four tries Friday night, then lost 3-0 to the Hershey Bears on Saturday night. Center Jacob Josefson (four goals, two assists) leads the Devils in scoring, while Jeff Frazee (1-1-0, 2.02 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) and Keith Kinkaid (1-3-0, 2.27, .913) have shared the goaltending.

The Whale will start a home-and-home with the Springfield Falcons on Sunday at 7 p.m., four hours later than usual because of an arena changeover at the XL Center in Hartford. The Falcons (5-1-0-1) have missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons but are leading the Eastern Conference with 11 points under new coach Brad Larsen. Wing Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, whose 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists) shared the Whale scoring lead with Kris Newbury last season, leads the Falcons with two goals and five assists. Audy-Marchessault, who signed a free-agent contract with the parent Columbus Blue Jackets this summer, is followed by Greenwich native Cam Atkinson (3, 3), who also was an All-Star as a rookie last season, center Ryan Johanson (3, 3) and left wing Matt Calvert (2, 4). The Falcons also have been helped by the additions of defenseman Tim Erixon, who has two assists after being part of the trade that brought NHL All-Star left wing Rick Nash to the Rangers from the Blue Jackets on July 23, and veteran goalie Curtis McIlhinney (5-1-0, 1.51, .949). The teams will have their second of 12 meetings on Nov. 9 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

WHALE PLAYERS LUCKIER THAN SOUND TIGERS

The Whale family got through Hurricane Sandy much better than the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Most of the Sound Tigers players rent houses near Long Island Sound, so they went home after returning from a 5-2 loss at Worcester on Sunday, got their wives or girlfriends and some belongings, prepared their places as best they could and went to ride out the storm in Springfield because it was the closest place where they could get a block of hotel rooms. They remained in Springfield on Tuesday while many of their homes were underwater.

The storm also delayed the evaluation of right wing Kirill   Kabanov, who had emergency surgery Friday night after being cut on the left   wrist in a 5-1 loss in Worcester. Kabanov, a   third-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2010, is out indefinitely,   though the Sound Tigers said he is expected to make a full recovery. He had two assists in four games before being injured in a game watched by his   parents from Russia.

ODDS AND ENDBOARDS

Brayden Schenn, who spent most of last season with the  Philadelphia Flyers, had a goal and three assists in the Adirondack Phantoms’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday. Scheen scored with 62 seconds left in regulation and then set up Brandon Manning for the winner only 14 seconds into overtime. Schenn leads the Phantoms with nine points in  seven games.

Former Whale wing Andre Deveaux got his second one-game  suspension of the season Tuesday for 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct major  after the San Antonio Rampage’s 3-1 loss at Rockford on Sunday. He will miss the Rampage’s game against Grand Rapids on Friday night.

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