By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOLTON (CBS) — — Just as Charlie McAvoy was finding a higher gear late last season, the Bruins season came to a halt.
After missing a month with a sprained left MCL, McAvoy returned for the last four games of the regular season and the playoffs and rode a bit of a roller coaster in terms of his play and the team’s performance right up until Boston was eliminated by Tampa Bay.
“I thought when I came back, the first couple games back and the Toronto series was a little bit up and down. I felt like I played a good game and then I’d play a bad game,” McAvoy recalled before teeing off at the Bruins Foundation’s 15th annual charity golf tournament at The International. “And then I really think I turned the page in that Tampa series. I thought I played five games of consistent, really good hockey. I thought that was some of the best hockey I’ve ever played. I’m trying to put my best foot forward in that series, so I left on a positive note.”
The five-game series loss to the Lightning, however, replaced McAvoy’s positive vibes about his own play with blue feelings about the team. So he did what any red-blooded, 20-year-old American would do: he went to represent the red, white and blue.
McAvoy joined Team USA at the IIHF World Championship in Denmark. He had nine points (three goals, six assists) in six games and helped the U.S. win a bronze medal. McAvoy’s rebuilt mojo from the Lightning series kept flowing in the Team USA sweater and helped him build momentum for a positive offseason.
“You never want to end the year on a tough note and then know that ‘hey I don’t get to play any more hockey until four months’ and kind of have that uneasy feeling of ending on a bad note,” he said. “That’s why if we ended in that Toronto series it would’ve stung, I would’ve felt like I didn’t really find my stride and kind of have to think about it for a couple months. But I’m fortunate enough that I was able to play good hockey, I think, to my standards, definitely to the coach’s standards. And then to go over to Worlds and play well there too with some great American hockey players, it was pretty neat. It’s always a good experience.”
McAvoy finished his rookie regular season with 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists) in 63 games. He was in the Calder Trophy conversation even after he missed time to have a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat, right up until his knee injury.
Next up on McAvoy’s agenda will be defending against a sophomore slump. The NHL has a book on him now, and he may not have the security of playing next to Zdeno Chara like he did for most of his debut campaign. McAvoy’s expected to be the cornerstone of the defense corps, which will come with added responsibilities and an expanded role as time marches on.
He’s confident that he’ll be able to get on the same page with any defense partner with time and practice. And, as with Boston’s other former rookies heading into their second seasons, he believes experience and hard work will win out over any challenges that will come from being a sophomore in the NHL.
“None of us are forecasting a setback, I can tell you that. I think all of us have had good summers,” he said. “And I think something about the experience of having a full season, playing in a few playoff series now, kind of seeing that element, I can use all those things to allow me to come in and play great hockey right from the start, and that’s my goal. Kind of continue to do the right things in camp when it opens up to make sure that I’ll be ready to go. But I can’t wait, I’m excited.”
The World Championship experience wound up being a fitting finale to McAvoy’s rookie season. If he stays healthy and plays up to expectations, he could help the Bruins play long enough that he won’t have time to suit up for Team USA this coming spring.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.