Chad Krys wasn't looking for a leisure-filled spring break when touched down in Northern Illinois last month, just days after his NCAA career ended with a tough loss at TD Garden in the Hockey East championship game.
The 21-year-old traveled to Rockford for an education.
"It's obviously weird at first coming to a team 66 games into the season," Krys said. "When you're 20 years-old and kind of the young guy on the team, it's a little bit weird. But the guys have been really good, guys like [Andrew Campbell] and just really everybody has been awesome with me. From the staff to all the players, just helping me out and not picking on me too much."
One of the quirks of the hockey calendar comes every spring, when NCAA and Junior seasons end a few weeks before the American Hockey League. For players looking to make the jump to the professional level, it's a great opportunity to experience life as a hockey player on the cusp of the NHL.
But that doesn't mean AHL life is any easy adjustment, especially for NCAA players like Krys. Before Rockford's season ended in April, the Boston University star got a nine-game crash course in pro hockey with the Blackhawks' affiliate.
"There's a lot more downtime, and you kind of need to figure out what works for you and what you need to do to get ready," he said.
Krys is a big piece in Chicago's pipeline of young defenseman. With fellow second-round pick Ian Mitchell returning to college and teenage prospects Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin spending the 2018-19 season in Juniors, Krys might be the most NHL-ready of the bunch.
Forget for just a moment that Krys could be lining up alongside Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook in a matter of months, and parts of his life don't seem that different from a typical college kid. For one, balancing Netflix with earning a college degree.
"Once I get back to the hotel, I'm still in my courses at school, so maybe I'll do some school work. Been watching a lot of Netflix," he said. "Right now, it's get up, come to the rink, have breakfast, do what we need to do at the rink, practice, workout, do any type of stuff I need to do off the ice here, and then we're all staying at the hotel, some of the younger guys."
In between, Krys has already caught the eye of Rockford head coach and 14-year NHL veteran Derek King.
"Chad's filled in really well with us, he can skate and he actually will play an aggressive game and go to the gray areas too," King said. "College is every weekend you play and then you practice all week, so it's not as big of a grind. When they get to this level, all of sudden it's three and four nights with travel on the bus. It can be exhausting."
Krys pointed to the sudden free time after practice and between games as a major adjustment from college. With more games over a shorter period of time, he said it was nice to spend the end of the season in Rockford and experience life in the minors.
"That's probably the biggest difference [from college] is you have your whole day. You don't want to just sit on your butt the whole day, you want to stay active and do things," he said. "It's been nice now that I've gotten to know the team a little better, I'm starting to hang out with some of the guys."
In his first game as a professional, Krys and the IceHogs fell behind 3-2 against the Milwaukee Admirals. Midway through the third period, Krys intercepted a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone. He skated along the boards and dropped off a perfect pass to Anthony Louis right in front of net, where the former Miami of Ohio star deposited the game-tying goal.
Not bad for a college kid skating in his first AHL game.