SPOTLIGHT: ZUCCARELO AND KREIDER

Bruce BerletBy: Bruce Berlet

Chris Kreider looks more and more like pro material when the postseason arrives.

Kreider, the New York Rangers’ first-round pick (19th overall) in 2009, scored both Boston College goals in a 2-0 victory over Air Force in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament Northeast Regional semifinals Saturday night at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass.

“The kid who scored their two goals,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “Where is he going to be in three weeks, New York?”

The “kid” is Kreider, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior left wing from Boxford, Mass. While Kreider was the catalyst on offense, Parker Milner keyed the defense with 20 saves as the top-ranked Eagles (30-10-1) won their 16th in a row, including regular season and Hockey East tournament games. BC will play in the regional final Sunday at 7 p.m. against defending champion and seventh-ranked Minnesota Duluth, which rallied from a two-goal deficit to a 5-2 victory over No. 10 Maine behind two goals by junior center Jake Hendrickson.

The BC-Minnesota Duluth winner advances to the Frozen Four on April 5 and 7 in Tampa, Fla. The Eagles are shooting for a fifth national title and third in six years.

Kreider scored the winner 7:39 into the game on a power play and clinched it when he converted his own rebound with 1:21 left in regulation.

“As a group, at least the last few years, we’ve been able to figure it out the last couple of months of the season,” Kreider said.

Kreider had struggled a bit the past few weeks but still has 22 goals and continues to excel at the most important time of the season.

“That’s a testament to his competitiveness, and he has a history of having really good tournaments,” Eagles coach Jerry York said.

Rangers president and general manager recently said he expected Kreider to leave BC after his junior season and that he planned to offer him a contract. If the Eagles reach and win the national championship, it will be on the final day of the NHL regular season. The AHL doesn’t end until April 14, so Kreider could sign an amateur tryout contract, play several games with the Connecticut Whale and then join the Rangers. Or he could join former Boston University wing Tony Amonte and go directly from college to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Amonte joined the Rangers in 1991 after the Eagles lost in triple overtime to Northern Michigan in the national championship game.

“I wouldn’t say there’s pressure, but there are some distractions,” Kreider said. “You want to be in the here and the now. At times people will try to draw you away from that, try to draw your focus toward something that’s obviously not important in the present.”

Kreider then paused and added, “But I’m sure the Air Force players have pressures of their own.”

ZUCCARELLO DONE IN HARTFORD

AHL All-Star wing Mats Zuccarello’s career in Hartford has almost certainly ended.

Zuccarello’s season all but ended last week when he fractured his wrist when hit by a shot and will sidelined 6-to-8 weeks. The “Norwegian Hobbit” had finally seemed to find a niche on Broadway after his second call-up after six strong weeks with the Whale that followed being out injured for six weeks.

Now, as New York Post writer/columnist Larry Brooks pointed out Sunday, the only way Zuccarello will continue his NHL career next season would be if the Rangers fail to qualify him on July 1, thus allowing him to hit the open market where he might be able to get a one-way contract as an unrestricted free agent.

Under Article 10.2 (iii) of the collective bargaining agreement, the Rangers are required to offer Zuccarello a two-way contract to retain his rights when his original two-year, $3.5 million runs out at the end of the season. It’s highly unlikely that Zuccarello would sign that contract and risk playing for what would be pocket change in the AHL compared to what he could earn in Europe, where he was the MVP of Swedish Elite League with Modo before coming to North America.

If Zuccarello doesn’t return, his spot almost certainly will be taken by Kreider, a seeming lock to excel in the NHL

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