The plane carrying the Boston Bruins flew over Long Island on New Year’s Day, inbound for JFK and a game against the Islanders at Barclays Center Tuesday night. One passenger instantly recognized Long Beach during the descent.
“It was kind of cool,” Charlie McAvoy said.
Because it was home.
When McAvoy was 3, his dad, Charlie Sr., began taking him to skate at Long Beach Ice Arena. That little kid is now 6 feet tall and 208 pounds. He just turned 20 on Dec. 21. And this Long Beach native is a rising star in the NHL as a top-pair defenseman for the Bruins.
The words “Calder Trophy” are starting to be associated with the words “Charlie McAvoy” — as in the potential rookie of the year.
“He does everything well,” Bruins’ coach Bruce Cassidy said before McAvoy had an assist in front of family and friends in his first game at Barclays Center, a 5-1 Boston win. “I think he should be considered one of the leading candidates, personally. I don’t see every guy on a nightly basis, how much they mean to their team. I know what he means to ours.
“So hopefully he gets his (consideration). And there has been chatter about it, I believe. There’s still half a season to go. I think he’ll only get better. I don’t think he’ll hit a wall, myself. He’s physically strong. Mentally, he’s beyond his years . . . But I don’t want to put too much pressure on him.”
It seems McAvoy can handle it, though.
Flash back to last April 12 in Ottawa.
The Bruins had drafted McAvoy 14th overall in 2016 and signed the Long Island Gulls alum late last March after two seasons at Boston University.
He played just four AHL games with the Providence Bruins. But the parent Bruins were wracked with injuries on defense.
So Boston summoned the new kid. Here was McAvoy, all of 19, making his NHL debut — in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Ah, crazy,” McAvoy said. “I kind of just tried to stay, like, even keel and kind of just telling myself, ‘Hey, you’re here for a reason.’ I think that was just myself trying to hang on to some confidence and realize I can go out here and play with these guys.
“I was pretty starstruck at first. But we were able to go out there and get a win in that first game. It was something that I’ll remember forever.”
The Bruins bowed out in six, but McAvoy stood out. He averaged 26:12 and made three assists. He even drew praise from one of the hockey gods, Bruins Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr.
Matt Grzelcyk, his close friend, college defense partner when McAvoy was a freshman and fellow Boston rookie, calls him “amazing.”
“Stepping into the playoffs like he did last year, I think playing with him for that year at B.U., I don’t think I was surprised at all, just seeing his growth as a freshman and watching him the next year and how well he played at world junior,” Grzelcyk said. “He’s continuing to get better each and every day, and he’s working hard at it.”
McAvoy, who quarterbacks the first power play, said he wants to contribute offensively. He has five goals and 16 assists. He’s plus-10 for a red-hot team that’s 10-1-2 in its last 13 and 22-10-6 overall, good for second in the Atlantic. The Bruins began play Tuesday with the fourth-fewest goals allowed in the league.
“Defensively, I think I’m getting more and more responsible,” McAvoy said. “I think it’s something I have to keep working on.”
His favorite team growing up wasn’t the Islanders.
“The Rangers used to practice in Long Beach, so it was predominantly Rangers fans,” McAvoy said. “Almost the entire town was.”
His idol was the Rangers’ Brian Leetch. The Hall of Fame defenseman, who finished his career with Boston, won the Calder in 1989 and the Stanley Cup in 1994. That’s the trophy McAvoy craves.
“Win a Stanley Cup is my main goal,” McAvoy said. “For however long I play this game, if I can say that I won a Stanley Cup, that would be a dream come true.”
Bruins defenseman Charlie McEvoy’s rookie season by the numbers:
AVG. TIME ON ICE 23:05*
*Tuesday night’s game not included