Canada’s Macklin Celebrini ready for world junior stage: ‘Doesn’t cheat the game’

Macklin Celebrini in action during Canada's team training in Limhamns Ice Hall in Malmo, Sweden, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, ahead of the JVM (2024 IIHF Junior WC). (Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency via AP)

Macklin Celebrini was contemplating his next hockey stop. 

The teenage star poised to join the U.S. college hockey ranks for the 2023-24 season had plenty of NCAA schools pining for his services back in June 2022. 

The NBA Finals — more specifically, the teams involved — would provide a twist that eventually sealed the Vancouver product’s collegiate destination. 

And help propel him onto Canada’s roster for the 2024 world junior hockey championship. 

Celebrini’s dad, Rick, is director of sports medicine and performance for the Golden State Warriors, who were facing the Boston Celtics for the Larry O’Brien Trophy that spring. 

Boston University men’s hockey head coach Jay Pandolfo had already scouted the younger Celebrini during his two years dominating the stats page at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prep school in Minnesota whose alumni include Sidney Crosby. 

Pandolfo took a shot and reached out to Rick Celebrini with the Warriors in town for Games 3 and 4. 

“If we could ever get a Macklin Celebrini, we were certainly going to try,” Pandolfo recalled. “Ended up meeting with Rick. The relationship built from there.” 

When the Warriors-Celtics series made it back to Boston for Game 6 — three days after Macklin’s 16th birthday — the whole family was in tow. 

“Wasn’t really thinking about Boston schools,” said Macklin Celebrini, who has three siblings. “Then we visited, met all the coaches, and it was pretty set from there.” 

The 17-year-old centre, whose parents played high-level soccer, has dominated college hockey this season as a freshman with 10 goals and 25 points in 15 games for the Terriers. 

Celebrini is now looking to do the same with Canada. 

“You dream about putting on the jersey,” he said. “One of the most special things.” 

Celebrini is expected be a key offensive piece at the under-20 tournament, which opens Tuesday in Gothenburg, Sweden. 

“Very special player,” said centre Conor Geekie. “Excited for things to come for him.” 

The presumptive top selection at June’s NHL draft, Celebrini was in the company of elite athletes from a young age. Before the family moved to California, Rick’s resume included time working with Olympians, the Vancouver Canucks, the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps. 

“Some of the best athletes in the world,” Macklin said. “He relays the messages — what to do and what not to do. How important the little details are and how can it change your whole process.” 

The younger Celebrini, who watched Golden State clinch the title in Game 6 some 19 months ago, remembers being in awe watching Warriors star Stephen Curry go about his business away from the cameras. 

Pandolfo has no doubt that exposure helped the six-foot, 190-pound teenager excel in hockey. 

“Golden State is an incredible organization,” said the former NHL forward, who also has Macklin’s older brother, Aiden, with the Terriers. “You see what it takes to win championships, how the guys handle themselves. Being around that is invaluable.” 

Macklin Celebrini said having his dad around this summer as he recovered from shoulder surgery was a huge benefit in preparation for the rigours of the NCAA — a league with players sometimes eight years his senior. 

“Something in the back of my mind,” said last season’s USHL player of the year with the Chicago Steel. “Making sure I was ready for that physicality.” 

That preparation helped in college hockey and at Canada’s selection camp, where he was a star attraction — some teammates mentioned him in the same breath as Connor Bedard — from the first practice. 

“Puck finds him,” said head coach Alan Letang. “Comes as advertised.” 

Pandolfo said a player with maturity beyond his 17 years arrived at school. 

“Great offensive instincts, an attack mentality,” said the ex-Boston Bruins assistant. “But he cares just as much about the defensive side. He doesn’t cheat the game.” 

Pandolfo added that for all the on-ice skill, Celebrini’s approach when no one’s watching has been equally impressive. 

“Very good self-assessment skills,” Pandolfo said. “Understands things he needs to improve on, and he wants to attack those things.”

“The way he works off the ice, the details he has on the ice, the extra work he puts in all areas … that’s what gives you confidence. He knows.” 

The NCAA numbers jump off the page. They aren’t a shock to Celebrini. 

“Just playing my game,” he said. “Got off to a good start. Gonna try to keep going.” 

Macklin Celebrini hasn’t lived in Canada in quite some time, with stops in California, Minnesota, Illinois and now Massachusetts — thanks to that NBA Finals pivot — all key parts in his hockey journey. 

But make no mistake where the talented forward’s heart lies as his country looks for a third straight gold medal at the world juniors. 

“Canada’s home,” Celebrini said. “It’ll always be home.” 

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