McAvoy cherishes 'Winter Classic' experience


After missing Boston’s first 13 games of the 2022-23 NHL season following shoulder surgery in June, Long Beach native Charlie McAvoy returned to action Nov. 10 — three weeks sooner than expected — and earlier this month experienced what he described as “hockey in its purest form.”

The Bruins hosted Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic, the league’s 14th annual outdoor showcase game ringing in the New Year, at Fenway Park Jan. 2. McAvoy and his teammates entered the iconic venue wearing Boston Red Sox uniforms and logging baseball gear, then went out and beat the Penguins, 2-1, before a sellout crowd of 39,243.

“It was really something special,” said McAvoy, who played 23 minutes. “The whole atmosphere and really everything about the day was incredible. It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing outdoor hockey and brought back great memories.”

McAvoy, who growing up enjoyed a backyard rink built by his father, Charles Sr., was 10 years old when the first Winter Classic was held in Buffalo in 2008. The Bruins faced Chicago in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day in 2019 at Notre Dame’s football stadium, but McAvoy was unable to play due to injury.

This year, he soaked in every minute.

“My family was at Fenway and was able to get involved with the outdoor skate [on New Year’s Day],” McAvoy said. “Everything about the experience was perfect.”

Charles Sr. said watching his son play in the Winter Classic alongside his wife, Jennifer, and daughters Kayla, Holly and Heather was a surreal moment. “I’d say it ranks right up there with his first NHL game [a playoff game in Ottawa] and his first regular-season game in Nashville when he scored his first career goal,” he said.

Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft out of Boston University, McAvoy entered this season with 178 career points (34 goals, 144 assists) in 313 regular-season games. He has 3 goals and 24 assists in 31 games this season, including his 200th career point Jan. 7 in a 4-2 win at San Jose.

Now in his sixth NHL campaign, McAvoy, who turned 25 in December, is considered one of the top defensemen in the sport. He finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting a season ago after recording a career-high 56 points (10 goals, 46 assists) with a plus-31 rating while leading the Bruins with 24:38 average ice time per game.

In Game 6 of Boston’s first-round playoff series against Carolina last spring, he was checked against the boards and his left arm went numb. He played in Game 7 and assisted on both of the Bruins’ goals in their 3-2 season-ending defeat. He soon underwent an MRI, was advised to get the surgery done and learned it wasn’t routine.

McAvoy underwent shoulder arthroscopic stabilization June 3. The expected recovery time was six months. It turned out to be closer to five.

“I feel great,” McAvoy said Wednesday night after notching a goal and an assist and being named the No. 1 star in the Bruins’ 4-1 victory over the Islanders at UBS Arena.

The 37th goal of his career, in front of a large group of family and friends, was a one-timer from just inside the blue line at 7:48 of the second period and tied the game at 1. “It was an important goal in the game and we were able to take over the pace from there,” said McAvoy, who assisted on Brad Marchand’s power-play tally 5:03 into the third period for a 3-1 lead.

Boston went 11-2 during McAvoy’s absence and sits well atop the NHL with a remarkable 35-5-4 record for 74 points after beating the Islanders.