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Celebrini set to for NHL draft after taking road less-travelled


LAS VEGAS — Rick Celebrini and his family had a decision to make.

The well-known physiotherapist in the Vancouver area, with a resume that included working alongside Canadian Olympians, basketball icon Steve Nash, the NHL's Canucks and Major League Soccer's Whitecaps, was weighing two NBA job offers in 2018.

The Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.

There was plenty to consider — including hockey.

Macklin Celebrini, the second of Rick and wife Robyn's four children, was a budding star. What would a warmer climate do for the youngster's development?

"We visited San Antonio," Rick Celebrini recalled. "There's no real youth hockey."

He reached out to San Jose Sharks defenceman and former client Brent Burns to ask about the San Francisco Bay Area.

Burns spoke highly of the Jr. Sharks program. Celebrini got in touch to ensure Macklin could play up a year.

"It was important he be challenged," Rick said. "It was a good group."

That made things easier. The Warriors were the choice. The family would relocate to California.

Some six years later, the Celebrinis will be in sizzling Las Vegas to watch Macklin live out his dream.

The star centre from Boston University is expected to be selected by San Jose, the team from what amounts to his second hometown, with the No. 1 pick Friday at the NHL draft inside the glitzy Sphere auditorium.

"I'm nervous, I'm excited," Macklin Celebrini said. "I have different emotions about it. I'm looking forward to it, though. People say, 'Enjoy it, only happens once in your life.'

"I'm really going to."

Celebrini, who turned 18 this month, became the youngest-ever winner of the Hobey Baker Award when he was named the NCAA's top player in 2023-24 after putting up 32 goals and 64 points in 38 contests.

"The physicality of the play, the maturity of the game," the six-foot, 190-pound forward said when asked why he chose U.S. college hockey over Canadian major junior. "Playing against those older guys … you can't really get away with a lot."

Despite missing his friends following the move from North Vancouver, B.C., Celebrini said being around the Warriors helped push him.

Not every kid gets to watch NBA stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson go about their business on a daily basis.

"Just seeing the different things they do to prepare themselves, prepare their bodies," said Celebrini, who again hit the road to play at Shattuck-St. Mary's School, Sidney Crosby's Minnesota alma mater, with older brother Aiden after one season with the Jr. Sharks.

Dad said Macklin's sports osmosis started even further back when he used to witness Nash — a future Hall of Famer — go through gruelling summer training sessions while he played off to the side.

"And then my work with the Whitecaps and the Canucks," said Rick Celebrini, the Warriors' vice-president of player health and performance. "Seeing how these guys prepare, how these guys train, the hard work that goes into it — not just when the lights are on and the TV cameras are on."

Macklin and Aiden, his teammate at Boston University and a Canucks draft pick, then really started to pay attention on their own hanging around Golden State's practice facility.

"That key time in an athlete's development," Rick said. "An incredible motivating and educational opportunity."

There was also plenty of education growing up in Greater Vancouver. Rick, who along with Robyn was a soccer player, said it didn't take long to realize Macklin thought hockey differently.

"I'm sure he picked it up watching TV," Rick said of one standout sequence. "But he's looking at the score clock, he's looking at bench, he's directing his guys at the faceoff.

"They were five years old. Like, that's ridiculous."

And as the hockey got more serious, so did Macklin.

"Ultracompetitive," Rick said. "A kid is better than him, he's going to try to keep raising his game and practice more. Whether it's an individual or a team, he's always looking to beat the next best."

That goes back to his days at the North Shore Winter Club — the family's North Star for many years.

Connor Bedard, who went No. 1 to the Chicago Blackhawks a year ago, just so happened to be one of the kids kicking around the North Vancouver institution.

"Connor was a big influence on Mac," said the elder Celebrini. "And hopefully Mac was a good influence on Connor. They created a situation where they pushed each other and competed."

Rick Celebrini has watched plenty of athletes prepare and perform under a microscope.

Macklin's run through a gauntlet that's included the world junior hockey championship, the NCAA Frozen Four tournament and the NHL draft combine has impressed the family patriarch.

"Extremely proud of how he's handled all the pressure," Rick said. "Answered all the questions, conducted himself in a respectful, humble manner. It's been a lot.

"He'll be exhausted at the end of it all."

Then the training starts anew.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2024.


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