You kind of get the feeling Chris Kreider
would prefer if 2010 was extended by a few months.
After all, of the eight returnees to this year's U.S. National Junior Team that will be gunning for a second-straight gold medal at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., Kreider might have the most decorated resume over a 12-month span.
Sure, there was plenty to get excited about in June 2009, when the New York Rangers
selected him with the 19th pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, but just look at what followed.
As a freshman at Boston College last season, Kreider not only helped lead the Eagles to their fourth NCAA title with a title-game victory against Wisconsin, but he had 6 goals, 7 points and a plus-6 rating in seven games with Team USA en route to a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon. The six goals tied him for third in the tournament.
"I was just playing and trying to enjoy it," Kreider told NHL.com. "It kind of just passes you by, but I guess that's the nature of the beast."
While he's honored to have another shot at winning gold -- this time on home soil in Buffalo -- Kreider doesn't believe the U.S. should be a heavy favorite by any means.
"That's a loaded question and a loaded statement," he said. "I've already dealt with this at Boston College entering this year. We're not defending national champions here; we have a whole new team. The national championship team was last year and that team is no more. Similarly, we've lost some key guys from that gold-medal team from last year. While there wasn't a huge turnover, it's still a different team, a different dynamic and a different atmosphere."
That said, who does Kreider consider the tournament favorite?
"It's tough to pick a favorite, especially based on names," he said. "What a team looks like on paper could be totally different once they come together. No one picked us to win it last year and, in fact, we were labeled one of the worst U.S. teams in a while. In retrospect that's kind of laughable, but if you're going to pick a favorite you always have to pick Canada."
En route to capturing gold last year, Kreider scored the winning goal in a 3-0 victory against Switzerland on Dec. 27, a hat trick in a 12-1 defeat of Latvia on Dec. 29 and the first goal for the United States in the gold-medal game against Canada. He admits the team's 5-4 shootout loss to Canada in preliminary-round action on New Year's Eve was a blessing in disguise. It was just the motivation needed prior to the rematch in the gold-medal game.
"Losing to them was the best thing that could have happened to us," Kreider said. "We recognized we could play with them and recognized, at times, we probably out-played them. They came from behind and competed valiantly and were unbelievable, but we said, 'Hey, we're right there with them and there's no way that team can beat us twice in a row.'"
The U.S. led 4-2 with 10 minutes left in regulation in the Dec. 31 match, but a pair of Canada goals tied it, and then Brandon Kozun
scored the deciding goal in the shootout.
"We also had the harder road to get there (in the medal round), I guess, playing the Finns and the Swedes. We earned our way back into that (gold-medal) game knowing full well who we'd be facing," Kreider said. "We were playing with a lot of confidence. I wouldn't say we were cocky, but confident in our ability to show up and play sound hockey."
Team USA scored medal-round victories against Finland, 6-2, and Sweden, 5-2, before its rematch with Canada. And by that time, Kreider admits the team was ready.
"Everyone was excited, but I wouldn't say it was any different than any other game we played," Kreider said. "Everyone just went about their business and was excited for the Finland game, the Sweden game. We realized the Canada game was a big game and we were excited to be able to compete for the gold medal. We had a lot of confidence in ourselves after how we played the New Year's Eve game and while there might have been a heightened level of intensity, you don't change your modus operandi for an opponent … in other words, you don't change what you do. In pregame, you're going through the motions, but doing what you do to get prepared and just work off of that."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale