What were the odds that a couple of 5-year-old kids from the same youth hockey team on Long Island would grow up to both be elite defensemen in the NHL?
Pretty long, probably.
Charlie McAvoy and Adam Fox beat those odds, and now the two 23-year-olds are among the generation of young, stud defensemen in the NHL. Fox, the Jericho native, just won the 2021 Norris Trophy, given to the league’s best defenseman, in only his second year with the Rangers. McAvoy, the Long Beach native playing in his fourth season with the Boston Bruins, was fifth in the voting.
That must have been some youth team they were on.
"You’re not kidding,’’ McAvoy said at a charity ping pong event in Stamford, Connecticut this past week. "We’ve been really fortunate to be able to play here, play for great coaches, be able to develop as young kids, and then both to go on to Ann Arbor [Michigan] and play for the national team.’’
McAvoy, born in December 1997, made the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, in 2013. Fox, born in February 1998, made the program the next year. Both were on the U.S. team that won the World Junior Championship in 2017, with fellow Long Islander and Long Island Gulls teammate, Jeremy Bracco.
Both Fox and McAvoy said making the program was the first time they realized they had legitimate shots at reaching the NHL.
"You go there, you see how many people have made it from there, and you kind of feel, ‘Hey, why not me?’ ’’ McAvoy said. "It’s sort of a blueprint, a direct line to, not only college, but, hopefully, the pros. So that was kind of where it came to me that, we’re doing something special here.’’
Both played college hockey in Boston – McAvoy at Boston University, Fox at Harvard – and both were drafted in 2016, McAvoy in the first round by Boston, Fox in the second round by Calgary. The Flames ended up trading him to Carolina, who would later deal him to the Rangers.
The two players, both righthanded shots, were defense partners the entire time growing up, from the time they started on the Long Island Leafs, at 5 years old, through when they joined the Long Island Gulls together. The Gulls were coached by Mike Bracco – Jeremy’s father – who, at one point told Fox’s father, Bruce, that Fox and McAvoy were the best defense pair in North America.
"At the time, I kinda like laughed at him,’’ Bruce Fox said. "But looking back now, they could have been, at the time.’’
What made that thought even more mind-boggling was the fact that the two boys were a year younger than most of the kids they were playing with and against. Fox was playing up a year, in the 1997 age group. And while McAvoy was in the correct age group, a December birthday meant he was younger than almost everyone except Fox.
The two boys were tight on and off the ice, sleeping over at each other’s houses, and all the stuff that regular kids do. They both played other sports – McAvoy surfed and played lacrosse, baseball and football; Fox played youth football and was a good lacrosse player.
"They both were just normal, good kids,’’ Bruce Fox said.
Today, the two pals are so proud of each other’s accomplishments. Adam Fox, not the most expansive speaker on most topics, practically gushes when asked about McAvoy. Asked, playfully, if he teases McAvoy about the fact that he is the first Long Islander to win the Norris Trophy, he quickly said no way.
"I certainly don’t,’’ he said. "He’s had a pretty good NHL career so far himself. Charlie, I grew up with him, and to see where he’s at now, it’s awesome for me. I asked a ton of questions when he first played, and he stepped in and dominated in the playoffs. And to see where he’s at now is awesome for me.’’
Besides, according to Bruce Fox, McAvoy is destined to be the second Long Islander to win the Norris.
"Yeah, Charlie’s gonna win the Norris, trust me on that,’’ Bruce Fox said. "He will win the Norris. He’s phenomenal.’’
In the meantime, McAvoy is genuinely excited for his pal to have won the award.
"It was so exciting. It’s so well-deserved. He’s so special,’’ McAvoy said. "There’s so many things you could say. Honestly, I think the coolest thing was – not only to play with him, but just a kid from Long Island, right?’’