‘The onus is on me’: Charlie McAvoy opens up about getting set straight by Bruins team leadership
Hindered of late by a nagging foot injury, second-year Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy will miss a game for the 45th time in his career Tuesday night with the Wild in town. Only 21 years old, the talented back liner has learned in full the lesson of how hard it can be to withstand the physical rigors of what is often a punishing game at the NHL level.
Off the ice, 2018-19 also has been one that has taught the former Boston University star a lesson or two in managing his time and the need to improve his discipline and punctuality.
Noting Saturday night to a Globe reporter that he was guilty of being tardy on two team-related occasions, one for a meeting on special teams and another when boarding the bus after a game, McAvoy confirmed that he was called out on his behavior by senior team leadership and that he now better understands his need to pay closer attention to the details and responsibilities of being a pro.
“I’m a young guy, and trying to adjust and learn all the right things,” a contrite-sounding McAvoy said in an interview during the club’s 2-1 win over the Sabres. “We have the best group in the NHL as far as leaders go — these are guys that I idolize — and my ultimate goal for my career is to grow as a player, to be those guys, and take on leadership roles and be the kind of people they are on and off the ice.
“These are lessons that I ultimately have to learn.”
Team president Cam Neely, who minimized McAvoy’s transgressions, was quizzed on the defenseman’s behavior Tuesday by 98.5’s Michael Felger during the station’s on-site broadcast at the Winter Classic in South Bend, Ind.
“It’s come out,” Felger said to Neely, “that he’s not exactly a timely professional. He misses buses, I mean, even [Brad] Marchand said it in an interview. Has there been an issue off the ice with McAvoy with just that little thing?”
Neely, asked Saturday about his comments during the radio show, emphasized that McAvoy had not missed anything, but had been late to a team bus.
Neely also stressed that none of McAvoy’s actions reached the level of requiring discipline, and that he was confident that team leadership — naming Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Marchand — routinely would address minor transgressions in the room, and it would be rare for word of such things to make it to the front office.
“I don’t look at it as a major issue,” said Neely, specifically addressing McAvoy’s behavior. “There was nothing missed . . . he was just late. And, as it should be, it’s frowned upon.
“But having said that, our locker room handled it, and it should be that way . . . for me, it hasn’t been elevated to where it’s become a real issue . . . it’s a young player, you know, probably getting caught up in things and trying to figure things out. Not an issue.”
Somewhat reluctantly, McAvoy confirmed that it was Marchand, a member of the 2011 Cup-winning team and a veteran of 643 regular-season games, who called him out on his behavior. Sounding earnest, he said he was appreciative of Marchand setting him straight.
“We really addressed it there, the habits that I need to have,” McAvoy said, “as a younger guy on the team and someone who’s growing. He’s really looking out for my future. How I carry myself now will set the standard for how I am for the rest of my career. And for that I couldn’t be more thankful. Versus, say, playing in a market where maybe you’re allowed to get away with certain things . . . and I guess, you know, you don’t reach your full capabilities of being the best leader or best person you can be. I felt much better after the conversation.”
According to McAvoy, Marchand addressed his need to make “only minor fixes.”
“I don’t have to change very much,” he added. “Just making sure I am always there, that I’m the first to get there and one of the last guys to leave. As far as working hard and competing, those are things that I pride myself on. I don’t feel I need to change much there.
“The onus is on me, especially as a young guy, to make sure I am always there — five minutes early, 10 minutes early, 15 minutes early. Just to make sure I am doing that. Because that’s just how it goes.”
Chara, the team captain, and Bergeron, an alternate captain along with Krejci, both made clear McAvoy’s behavior is not a problem.
“It’s hasn’t been a problem at all,” Bergeron said. “Chucky’s one of those guys that, you know, when you are younger you have things to learn, and that’s what he’s doing right now. It hasn’t been an issue. It has not happened often, either. And it’s being dealt with, and he’s a great kid — so there’s no issues there at all.”
Chara noted that players with little seniority, first- and second-year players such as McAvoy, often need to learn the discipline required in and around the dressing room, including the punctuality of the bus. Former Bruin Shawn Thornton, he recalled, was a stickler when it came to transportation and the clock.
“I call it the old ‘Shawn Thornton rule,’ ” said Chara, breaking into a big smile. “If guys weren’t on the bus, he was like flipping out. Even when we had charter flights, it would say on the itinerary, 2 o’clock flight. The plane would be de-icing at 2:10, and he’d be yelling, ‘Hey, when is the 2 o’clock flight?’ I mean, c’mon, we’re de-icing the plane!”
Chara, who returned to the lineup prior to Christmas after missing five weeks with a wrenched knee, said he was unaware of the specifics of McAvoy’s transgressions.
The captain dismissed a notion that McAvoy’s behavior could be considered akin to, say, that of former Bruin Tyler Seguin, who early in his stay overslept one December morning in 2011 in Winnipeg, missed a team breakfast and late-morning meeting, and was scratched from that night’s lineup.
“I don’t think so,” said Chara, when asked if this were a similar situation. “And again, if it were leading anywhere close to that route, we would make sure we would address it and take care of it. Absolutely, we would sit down and have a conversation with the individual, and ask him what the problem is. But again, I don’t think it’s an issue, and if it’s being presented that way on the outside . . . I don’t think it’s an issue.”
McAvoy hopes to resume practice Monday or Tuesday after his recent five-game absence.
“I think it was something that I knew,” said McAvoy, asked the takeaway from his off-ice lesson. “But I think it was really reinforcing it, and it kind of hammered it home. And for me, looking at it now, I am very fortunate to hear it from these guys.
“I want to be the best person I can be, the best player I can be, and I think it’s all tied in. I think just developing those habits of being there early . . . something Z does, Bergy does it, and they are so good and religious with those certain things. If I can learn those things now at this age, and develop them, then down the road it will be second nature to me, and that’s the person I want to be.”