Just three weeks after playing his final collegiate hockey game for Boston University, Long Beach native Charlie McAvoy found himself in the Stanley Cup playoffs, showered with high praise from many newfound fans around the country and at home.
The 19-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins on April 10, and two days later he earned rave reviews in his National Hockey League debut, a first-round playoff game hosted by the Ottawa Senators. The positive vibes have continued, as McAvoy has quickly become a focal point of Boston’s injury-riddled defense in the series.
“It’s a small sample size, but right now I think I have a good feel for the game, and I’m just trying to get better with every game I’m in,” McAvoy told the Herald when asked about the NBC commentators who have lauded his performance in the series’ first three games.
NBC analyst and former Bruin Mike Milbury praised the 6-foot-1, 211-pound defenseman’s effort in Game 1, in which McAvoy logged the second-most time on the ice, and evaluated his play in the next game as “terrific again.”
NBC’s broadcast of Game 2, a Saturday-afternoon match that Boston lost in overtime 4-3, featured several segments, spotlighting the rookie’s play. Keith Jones, Milbury’s in-studio colleague, complimented McAvoy’s ability to quarterback a power play with the team’s No. 1 unit during the second period. “Impressive stuff from that young man,” Jones said.
Game analyst Joe Micheletti called McAvoy’s poise “unbelievable.”
McAvoy, who played nearly 28 minutes of Game 2, said he was well aware of the stakes and certainly felt some pressure. “But I think I’ve just been trying to have fun and go a shift and game at a time and try to do the next-best thing,” he said. “I’m still adapting and going through this process right now. I think I’m playing good hockey, and it’s been a blast.”
McAvoy notched his first point as a pro in Game 3 in Boston on Monday — with his parents, three sisters and some Long Beach friends in attendance. On a second-period power play, he made an errant pass to David Pastrnak, but the puck found its way back to McAvoy and he re-fed the right-winger, whose shot tied the game at 3-3.
“He won’t make the same mistake the second time,” on-ice analyst Pierre McGuire said of McAvoy, who played for more than 24 minutes. “That’s one of the things that’s going to make that kid so great.”
Later, McGuire said that McAvoy looked like “a seasoned player” and noted his international play with Team USA, with which he won a bronze medal in 2016 and a gold this year at the Under-20 World Junior Championships.
His hometown is watching
Charlie McAvoy Jr.’s lifelong, co-No. 1 fans, his parents, Charlie Sr. and Jennifer, attended his first pro game at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.
“Just watching him in warmups was kind of surreal,” Charlie Sr. said. “I thought, Oh my gosh, he’s in the NHL! And then he starts the game next to [Bruins captain] Zdeno Chára, and him standing out there for the national anthem brought tears to our eyes.”
In Long Beach, McAvoy has given diehard New York fans a reason to root for the Bruins.
“Everybody was like, ‘Whoa, that kid’s from Long Beach’ — even Rangers fans,” said resident Vinny Leis, who was among those rooting for McAvoy at Swingbellys during Game 1. “It’s just exciting to see a hometown kid playing in the NHL, especially during playoff time. It brings a whole other dimension to NHL hockey. Everybody has a favorite NHL team, and player, but now it’s like we have a hometown kid playing for an NHL team, and although I’m an Islanders fan, now I’m a Bruins fan. It brings a lot more excitement to the game — we’re all staying tuned and watching every game.”
“It’s great for the kids from Long Beach because they have someone to look up to,” said Terence Mulligan, a coach of the Long Beach Lightning hockey team. “Charlie’s a great guy. You couldn’t be happier for a kid like that — he’s got the talent and he’s already made a seamless transition to the NHL. I watched the games, and he more than held his own.
“He doesn’t forget his roots, he doesn’t forget where he comes from and he’s a grounded kid,” Mulligan added. “I knew Charlie when he was 13, and I coached his younger sister. They’re a great family, a true hockey family.”
A youngster steps up
McAvoy, who grew up on Lafayette Boulevard and loved the Rangers, was drafted 14th overall by the Bruins in 2016. Late last month he ended his two-year career at BU, where he racked up eight goals and 43 assists in 75 games for the Terriers, and had an amateur tryout with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. He played four games with the team before inking a contract with Boston last week.
After defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo suffered injuries in the last two games of the regular season, the Bruins felt comfortable calling on McAvoy to step in and make his first pro start in the playoffs.
Charlie McAvoy Sr., co-owner of the family-run McAvoy Plumbing on West Park Avenue, played youth and high school hockey in Long Beach and also rooted for the Rangers, who used to practice at the city’s ice arena.
He instilled in his only son a love of the game and the Blueshirts. Charlie Jr. donned his first ice skates when he was 3. While he played football and many other sports while growing up, his first love was always hockey, and he idolized Ranger Brian Leetch, the franchise’s greatest defensemen.
“It’s just been outstanding and awesome, and we’re overwhelmed with emotion to watch him,” Charlie Sr. said of his son’s journey to the pros.
McAvoy attended Long Beach High School and joined its varsity hockey team as a freshman in 2012. That October, however, Hurricane Sandy battered the town, and the team was unable to play home games because of storm damage at the arena. He went on to play for the U.S. National Development Team in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he completed the remainder of his high school career in two years.
At age 17, he started at BU, and formed many close relationships with his teammates and others. The decision to leave the school in his sophomore year to pursue professional hockey was difficult and emotional. After he left for Providence, though, a talk with a family friend gave him much-needed perspective.
“I kind of got reassured that I’ll have those relationships for the rest of my life — that they don’t just disappear,” McAvoy said.
On Wednesday, he prepared to play in Game 4 against the Senators, who led the series 2-1. The Bruins could meet the Rangers in the second round if both teams win their current series. Asked about that prospect, McAvoy, whose favorite Ranger these days is defensemen and captain Ryan McDonagh, said he and the Bruins are focused solely on defeating Ottawa.
“But let’s say, figuratively speaking, that we ended up playing the Rangers in the second round,” he said. “That would be something crazy — to play in the building where I grew up watching Rangers games.
Obviously, my love for New York and Long Island as a whole will never disappear. But my allegiance is to a team that’s in Boston now, and I want to have a lot of success with this team.”
Anthony Rifilato contributed to this story.