Fox, McAvoy bring longtime friendship into NHL Thanksgiving Showdown

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“Right away, I’m like, ‘I’ve got to find out who this kid is,'” Bracco said. “I didn’t know he was a year younger. I’m just like, ‘I’ve got to get this kid with our group, because he just moves the puck so well.’ He was Adam like he is now when he was 4 years old, which is really scary.”

Bracco laughed.

“[He was] in a [New York] Rangers jersey,” Bracco said. “It was down past his knees. It was hilarious.”

Fox will wear a Rangers jersey in the 2021 NHL Thanksgiving Showdown on Friday (1 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ABC, SN, NHL LIVE). Only this time, the jersey won’t be too big, the rink will be in Boston, and Fox’s old friend McAvoy will be on the other side playing for the Boston Bruins.

After playing together for years with the Long Island Gulls and winning the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship for the United States, they have become two of the best defensemen in the NHL and could reunite at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Fox is the reigning winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman after scoring 47 points (five goals, 42 assists) in 55 games last season, second among defensemen and one point behind Tyson Barrie of the Edmonton Oilers. He leads defensemen this season with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 19 games.

McAvoy finished fifth for the Norris last season in the voting by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, scoring 30 points (five goals, 25 points) in 51 games. He has 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 16 games this season.

“It’s funny, because on Long Island, at least when we were growing up, NHL, World Juniors, it wasn’t even a thought,” Fox said. “And then to have two kids from the same team playing in the NHL together, it’s pretty cool.”

McAvoy said, “I think the coolest part of that is just, two kids from Long Island, played with the Long Island Gulls, both were able to make it. To be successful at this level is pretty mind-blowing.”

Fox is considered a year younger than McAvoy in hockey because of the age cutoff, but Fox (Feb. 17, 1998) was born less than two months after McAvoy (Dec. 21, 1997) and could play up a level. Fox estimated he and McAvoy spent about 10 seasons of their youth hockey careers together with the Gulls, a AAA travel team that competed in the United States and Canada. They often were defense partners. 

“I mean, it was youth hockey, so it wasn’t exactly like the NHL where you had necessarily set partners or anything like that,” Fox said. “But yeah, we played together a ton.”

 

Adam Fox (c., leaning on trophy) and Charlie McAvoy (back r) were teammates on the Long Island Gulls long before each became a top defenseman in the NHL. 

 

Looking back, Bracco could see Fox’s intelligence and McAvoy’s edge, not that he knew what they would become as 23-year-olds.

“Adam just has that gift of making the right play, understanding where the pressure comes from,” Bracco said. “Charlie has that brashness about him where he can physically take on players and he can play offense and do a great job on the blue line. That’s kind of like what they were when they were 8, 9, 10 years old. … 

“They had the talent, they had the opportunities, and they just kept running with it. … I mean, two Norris Trophy candidates from Long Island, that doesn’t happen. It’s amazing. I love watching it.”

McAvoy joined the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, playing for the Under-17 team in 2013-14 and the Under-18 team in 2014-15. Fox followed a year behind at the NTDP, playing for the Under-17 team in 2014-15 and the Under-18 team in 2015-16. But they spent 2014-15 at the same rink and the same Pioneer High in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and they reunited for World Juniors in 2017 with another former Gulls teammate, Bracco’s son, Jeremy.

Fox watched closely when McAvoy left Boston University after two seasons. McAvoy, selected by the Bruins in the first round (No. 14) of the 2016 NHL Draft, had three assists in six games in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists) in 63 games in 2017-18 and finished fifth for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the NHL rookie of the year as voted by the PHWA.

“Even when I was in college and he was signing, I would just ask him, ‘How is it? What do you got, any pointers or anything?'” Fox said. “I saw him step in right away and play pretty impactful hockey, so just growing up with him, it helped me to have a guy like that to be able to bounce questions off of and kind of help with my transition.”

Fox was selected by the Calgary Flames in the third round (No. 66) of the 2016 NHL Draft, but he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes and then to the Rangers. After three seasons at Harvard University, he scored 42 points (eight goals, 34 assists) in 70 games for New York in 2019-20 and finished fourth for the Calder.

“He didn’t need much help,” McAvoy said. “He’s always been a phenomenal hockey player. He’s just so gifted, possesses just such a skill set. To just watch him play has been a blast. We’re always supporting each other, and we’ve been able to remain close, and our families are still very close.”

Friday, Boston. February, Beijing?

“Yeah, that’d be special for sure,” Fox said. “When we had the opportunity to do it at the World Juniors, it was an awesome experience. To take that up to the highest international stage, it would be even more crazy.”

McAvoy said, “Well, I mean, that would be amazing. I think that it’s a goal of both of ours to be on that team. If we were able to do it, it would be just so surreal, having a great friend forever. To growing up playing where we played, it would make the whole thing even cooler to add that.”

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