Chris Kreider saw it as a sign of normalcy that he was attending Smashfest, an NHL player-driven charity event, Thursday night.
He roamed from table to table and socialized with fans during the fundraising pingpong tournament, which has been hosted by former Ranger Dominic Moore since 2012. Kreider couldn’t help but reflect on how far things have come since the coronavirus pandemic impacted the last two seasons, including the Rangers’ tumultuous 2020-21 campaign that culminated in a front office and coaching change.
“I think that we learned that we have a resilient group, which I think has been a staple of this team for as long as I’ve been here when we’ve had success,” Kreider said before giving his pingpong skills a go at The Loading Dock in Stamford, Conn. “At times, you might be down, but you’re not out and we showed signs of that right from the start of the year for the first two games where we got beat up by the Islanders, didn’t score a goal, and then came back to shut them out.
“Obviously, the response with the Washington games toward the end of the year. The guys who were out, myself included, were kicking ourselves for not being able to play in those games. But it was really cool to see that level of resiliency and that level of battle and fight from young guys.
“That’s got to be the culture of the Rangers.”
The 2021-22 season is set to begin in roughly two months, with a new general manager, Chris Drury, and a new head coach, Gerard Gallant, leading the way. Kreider is confident the Rangers can continue building the winning culture they have been working toward.
Norris Trophy-winner Adam Fox also participated in the event. Kreider made a point to acknowledge how beneficial the 23-year-old Fox has been to the Rangers and how much of an upside the rest of the young players on the team have.
“I think the future is pretty bright,” he said.
Thursday marked the first time in Smashfest’s existence that it was held outside of Toronto.
Instead of an influx of Maple Leafs fans, Rangers faithful poured into The Loading Dock to see Kreider and Fox headline a number of current and former NHL players, including legendary Rangers goalie Mike Richter, former Blueshirt Marty St. Louis and Colin Blackwell, who was taken from the Rangers in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft this offseason.
“We’ve always wanted to do Smashfest in more places because you see the way fans respond to it, they just love being a part of it,” said Moore, who played a combined five seasons with the Rangers after the organization drafted him 95th-overall in 2000. “I obviously have a lot of affinity for my time in New York and Rangers fans. I have a lot of loyalty to Rangers fans here and so do it in Rangers country, to have guys like Foxy and Mike Richter and Marty St. Louis and Kreids. … It’s really special.”
The event has helped fund research into rare cancers and concussions. Supported by the league and NHL Players Association, Smashfest surpassed the $1 million mark in funds raised in 2019, but anticipates another big turnout this year.
Even amid the excitement of the fundraiser, surrounded by his peers in the peak of the offseason, Kreider’s intensity came through when he was asked about the Rangers’ goal of making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
“Everyone just wants to punch their ticket to the dance,” he said. “That’s going to be our goal. Regardless of what people think of our roster, people think of what the state of the team is, our goal going into the year is to make the playoffs and that’s obviously at the front of every single player’s mind.”