Some kids grow up loving "Sesame Street." Others are big fans of "Rugrats." When Charlie McAvoy was a preschooler in Long Beach, his favorite video was a documentary.
"I think it was called something like 'Road to the Stanley Cup' and it was about the Rangers in '94," McAvoy said with a laugh. "I was a big fan of Brian Leetch growing up and I would just watch that video over and over."
That video helped sow the seeds for a lifelong love affair with the sport of hockey and the Rangers. Both passions will converge on Saturday when McAvoy, a freshman defenseman at Boston University, takes the ice with his team to play Cornell in the biennial Red Hot Hockey event at Madison Square Garden.
It won't be the first time McAvoy has played at the Garden -- he played there in 2010 as a member of Mark Messier's Pee Wee Rangers team -- and it certainly isn't expected to be the last.
McAvoy, who turns 18 on Dec. 21, is the youngest player in college hockey, according to Boston University. He also is one of the most talented. Considered by many to be the best freshman defenseman in the country, the 6-1, 210-pounder is widely projected to go in the top half of the first round in next summer's NHL Draft.
Under NHL Draft rules, teams are allowed to select college players and retain those rights until 30 days after the player leaves college. If a player is drafted and does not sign with a team, the player keeps his college eligibility.
"He's the whole package. He doesn't have a weakness," Boston University coach David Quinn said. "He can skate. He's physical. He has a great shot. He can think the game. He passes the puck really well. There's nothing he can't do well. He just has to be consistent . . . I'd say he's as talented a defenseman as I've ever coached."
That talent was first on display at Long Beach Arena, which is just a block away from where McAvoy grew up. McAvoy's father, Charlie Sr., a plumbing and heating contractor, helped with some of the work when the arena put in a studio rink on the second floor. Charlie Sr. got to know the owners and began bringing his son there to skate when he was 3.
"They allowed him to go up there and skate every day," said Charlie Sr., who grew up playing the game and still does on senior teams on Long Island. "There would be no one there but the two of us, and we would stay there for hours, come off and get something to eat or drink and then go right back on."
The family also had season tickets to Rangers games but had to give them up when McAvoy was 7 because his hockey schedule was so demanding. McAvoy made it through the hockey ranks, starting off at New York Apple Core and moving to the Long Island Gulls, where he was a member of the '97 Gulls Bantam team that made it to the 2011 nationals. He also played for the Westchester Express and New Jersey Rockets before he was tabbed to go into the U.S. national team developmental program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. McAvoy attended Long Beach High School for one year and then attended Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.
"Looking back, I was 15 when I left home and it wasn't easy at first," McAvoy said, "but it was a great opportunity and I ended up really loving it."
McAvoy was a member of the U.S. national under-18 team that won a gold medal at the 2015 world championships. Because he always dreamed of playing college hockey, McAvoy accelerated through high school before coming to Boston University as a 17-year-old freshman this fall.
More than 100 fans from Long Beach are expected to turn out to cheer McAvoy on Saturday, and McAvoy said it will be a thrill to represent his hometown out on the home ice of his favorite team.
"There's some good hockey players that have come out of Long Island," McAvoy said. "I think hockey is on the rise there. I'm proud of where I'm from."