Road less travelled for Celebrini
by Chris JUREWICZ|06 DEC 2023
Canada's Macklin Celebrini #17 scores in overtime during the Canada vs Slovakia Bronze Medal Game action at 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at St. Jakob Arena on April 30, 2023 in Basel, Switzerland.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
Close your eyes and picture the scene. Team Canada’s men’s soccer team in a World Cup or Olympic game and Macklin getting the ball in a prime scoring position, taking the ball and dribbling around a defender and then finishing by putting the ball in the back of the net.

The announcer screaming … “Celebrini, Celebrini, Celebriiiiiiiiiniiiiiiiiiiii.” It is a great soccer last name.

Macklin Celebrini’s name is now well-known in Canadian and US college hockey circles but there was a time when a young Macklin could have chosen the soccer pitch over the hockey rink. Both of his parents – Rick and Robyn – were soccer players, with Robyn playing at the collegiate level and Rick playing college and also for Canada’s under-20 national team and later professionally with the Vancouver 86ers.

Rick and Robyn have four children, sons Aiden, Macklin and RJ, and daughter Charlie. Although the kids dabbled in soccer, none of them chose that path as they got older.

“They kind of were both shooting for one of us to play soccer but it didn’t turn out that way,” chuckles Macklin during a call from Boston University.

The three boys are hockey players, with Macklin and Aiden currently playing together at Boston U. RJ, 11, is playing youth hockey and Charlie is a tennis player. The Celebrinis are an athletic family to be sure and Macklin is currently ranked as the top prospect months out of the 2024 NHL Entry Draft.

Like many elite athletes, Celebrini is focused on the short-term goals: getting better every day, helping his Boston Terriers maintain a top-10 ranking and work towards a national championship, and, a little further out, help Team Canada win gold at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship, scheduled for Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Many eyes will be focused on Celebrini, a 2006-born phenom who will be lacing it up with many players born in 2004. As many hockey experts remind us each year, the WJC is a tournament generally dominated by 19-year-olds so it’ll be interesting to see what Celebrini can do as a 17-year-old.

Last year, a 17-year-old Connor Bedard (who, like Celebrini, grew up in Vancouver) wowed scouts and fans during Canada’s gold-medal championship at the 2023 World Juniors. Celebrini, a strong two-way forward who can dazzle hockey fans with his exceptional skills, would love to put on the Team Canada jersey and play in a tournament he’s watched since he was a little kid.

“It’s just a part of your Christmas. You have Christmas and then, the next day, the World Juniors starts. It’s a tournament that I’ve dreamed of playing in,” says Celebrini, who says his favourite world junior memory was watching Alexis Lafrenière lead Canada to a 4-3 gold medal win over Russia at the 2020 tournament . “Every kid growing up watching the tournament; it’s a pretty special time. If I’m fortunate enough to play in the tournament, that would be awesome.”
The humble Celebrini will no doubt get the call and be an integral part of Team Canada at this year’s event. He’s currently enjoying a tremendous freshman campaign at Boston U with nine goals and 13 assists in 11 games for the Terriers, currently ranked fifth in the nation according to a USA Hockey poll with a record of 8-3-1.
Celebrini’s path to Boston has included a few unique stops.

Much of his youth hockey was spent in the Vancouver area (he’s a proud alum of the North Shore Winter Club, like Bedard) but the Celebrini family moved to California in 2018 when Rick joined the NBA’s Golden State Warriors as their director of sports medicine and performance.

Macklin played U14 AAA with the San Jose Junior Sharks and, in 2020-21, joined Shattuck St. Mary’s U14 AAA team where he put up video game numbers with 141 points in 50 games. A season later, with the U18 prep team at Shattuck, Celebrini had 50 goals and 117 points in 52 games. He was 15 years old.

Celebrini has just continued to produce wherever he’s gone, with 86 points in 50 games with the USHL’s Chicago Steel in 2022-23. At the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, Celebrini had 15 points in seven games and scored the overtime winner in a 4-3 bronze medal win over Slovakia.

Yet, despite being an offensive power, Celebrini says his game is just as much about defence.

“I take pride in my defensive game, taking care of the defensive zone because I feel like that’s important if you want to play in the offensive zone,” says Celebrini. “I’m a 200-foot player; I take pride in my defence but obviously everyone loves playing offence a little more and scoring goals and creating offence. That’s where I want to play and that’s what I love doing.”

International hockey fans will get a good look at Celebrini at this year’s world juniors and get to enjoy what the scouts and college hockey fans have been seeing this season. And, yes, Celebrini has heard some of the talk of the 2024 NHL Entry Draft and, though he doesn’t want to look too far ahead, it would be a lifelong dream to play in the world’s best hockey league.

“I grew up dreaming about the NHL. Ever since I can remember, I loved laying on the couch and watching the Vancouver Canucks, just watching the NHL,” he says. “It was always more of a dream than you would think of being a reality. You just love watching the best players in the world play the sport you love. It still doesn’t feel real thinking about the NHL, it’s still more of a like a dream.”