Inside Macklin Celebrini's NHL Draft moment, forged from his family's love and expertise

LAS VEGAS — Macklin Celebrini sat up and leaned forward, a big smile breaking across his face. It was just shy of 10 a.m. on Friday in this suite at the Venetian. He and his father were doing interviews. The infamous “hill” story came up.

“I was pissed,” he said, then dove into the story. “So it was at the end of a long week. And we just worked out for like two hours hard …”

His dad interrupted. The “hill” story from the summer of 2022 is important. It’s a window into who they are, how they function, why Macklin was hours from fulfilling his dream of becoming the top pick in the NHL Draft. But the 18-year-old had forgotten a small but central detail. So pops asked if he could start this one.

“OK, yeah,” Macklin says, reclining back on a soft brown couch.

So Rick Celebrini, 56, the highly regarded athletic trainer who plies his expertise as the director of sports and performance for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, dove right in. Dad explained the pattern he’d concocted for training Aiden, 19, eldest of the three Celebrini boys, and Macklin. It consisted of speed and power work early in the week, while they’re fresh. Then he grinds them towards the end of the week.

Aiden and Macklin could tell what kind of session they’d have based on how pops entered the home after work. Most often, it’s a warm greeting. Hugs and hair-ruffling. Queries about their day. But those days when work frustrations survive the drive home, as can happen when existing behind the scenes in the NBA, dad is more hard. Fewer words. Dour vibes. A little grumpy, as he put it. His greeting is more a simple, “Let’s go.” Aiden and Macklin would look at each other, knowing the training session would be tough.

The story of “the hill” was one of those days.

At the end of the workout, they run up and jog down this hill at their house. They typically finish workouts with five minutes on the hill, 10 max. But on this day, 10 minutes grew to 12 minutes. And 12 to 15.

Asking when a workout will end is a great way to keep it going. They’d long ago learned that lesson. And dad is notorious for saying “one more” and not meaning it. Always one more rep. One more time. One more drill. So they’ve learned to just keep going until he says stop.

“So they’re looking at me,” Rick says. “But they know not to ask either. And they could tell the kind of mood I was in. So they’re going. Now we’re up to 18 minutes. And they’re looking at me. Not saying anything. … They’re not going to quit.”

The boys took turns rallying. Aiden would surge ahead while Macklin faded. Then Macklin would find another gear and push through while Aiden faded. The entire time, they looked into their dad’s eyes for a glimpse of mercy.

After 30 minutes, Rick finally called it off. They collapsed.

They eventually got up and started walking home. But Macklin mumbled under his breath.

“Now we’re f—,” Macklin said with a laugh, recalling his audacious moment.

“And I go,” Rick chimed in, “‘What did you just say?’ And he goes, ‘Now we’re f— for the week.’ I go, ‘Let me tell you something. On your first day of camp, they’re going to grind you. They’re going to backskate you. They’re going to have you out there for two hours. You think you’re going to get out of it? You think you’re not going to come back the next day and do it again, and do it again? So you better learn. If you want to be a pro, you gotta be able to handle this stuff and suck it up.’”

Intensity is a genetic marker in the Celebrini family. Their surface is relaxed and warm. They smile frequently, lead with kindness. The family next door.

But once that pilot light is sparked …

The preview is in their eyes. They all have it. A piercing intensity. The way they look you straight in the eye. It’s caring and respectful. It also declares a willingness to be unflinching.

Macklin has it. Humility washes over him when he hears how Draymond Green, the notorious NBA star, watched him play in person and was practically salivating over Macklin’s physicality and fire.

“He watched a game that we weren’t playing very well,” Macklin said, referencing his Chicago Steel’s 4-2 home loss to the Madison Capitols in January 2023, his USHL days. “It was just a tough game in general and there was a lot of emotion. I was really frustrated so I think that’s why I was more physical.”

On the ice, Macklin is more wizard than wild. He’s a great skater with elite instincts. His game is about grace and electricity and feel. He’s so smart on the ice, on the puck and off. And he competes, which is why many scouts can’t find a significant flaw despite him being so young.

But Green’s eyes didn’t lie. Macklin’s got some of that in him. And Macklin knows from whence it came.

His father is highly regarded in the Warriors organization. He’s also known for being willing to lock horns with superstars, like Green, and get in the trenches with the likes of Stephen Curry. Celebrini’s passion activates his vast knowledge.

“They’re a lot more similar than Macklin is willing to admit,” Robyn, Macklin’s mother, said. “The intensity of their personalities. Their competitiveness. … He was a little wild man. We were always just trying to find healthy outlets for his energy.”

That same intensity is what makes him special. It’s how he got here, on the stage of the Sphere. How he’s the No. 1 pick in the NHL, the new cornerstone of the rebuilding San Jose Sharks.

Macklin Celebrini puts on a Sharks jersey for the first time after San Jose made him the No. 1 pick in Friday’s NHL Draft. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Yes, Macklin is talented. He works hard. His love for hockey is programmed into his central nervous system. But he made it here because he’s got a fire in his belly. He wants the smoke. He had a dream and enough ferocity to go after it.

He left home at 14 to play for Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota. He split from his brother and bestie in junior hockey. For college, he went further east to Boston University. For some time now, he’s carried the weight of expectation, worn the hype like a backpack. The Celebrini Draft arrived, and he was still every bit worthy, unmoved from his focus. It takes something more than talent, something special, to handle his status.

So, on this biggest day of his life to date, as he’s reflecting on the source of so much of his excellence on the ice and off, he appreciates his father. Right?

“I’ll never admit it to him.”

Not with words. But on this day, of all days, his confession was in clothes. Macklin dressed just like his father: navy blue polo, khaki pants, comfy white sneakers.

“He dressed like me,” Macklin said. “I was up early.”

“I was up and at Starbucks at 6 a.m.,” Rick fired back. “You weren’t up earlier than me.”

It was just after 1 p.m. and Rick was fully dressed in a pristine navy blue suit with a white shirt, purple tie and white pocket square. Aiden and Macklin had on their white dress shirts, trousers and socks. The fun began when it was time to put on a tie.

The cameras following the Celebrinis wanted to seize the moment when dad helped Macklin with his tie. Aiden slipped away from the commotion to an open mirror by the entrance of the suite. The Boston University defenseman, who was selected by his hometown Vancouver Canucks in the sixth round of last year’s draft, only needed to see what he was doing to get his tie together.

He took a glance over at the other side of the room and grinned with pride. As he worked on his knot, he thought about the makeshift NHL playoffs he and his brother would hold in the basement. They’d each pick eight teams, clear out some space and get active with their little sticks. They’d play each other over and over, each game representing a playoff matchup, until one team remained in their bracket.

“Basement hockey was so fun,” Aiden said. “I won most of the time. I won’t reveal who the teams were, but we used to go at it. We kept up the tradition until about 13.

“Now look at him,” he said, looking again at Macklin. “I’m so proud of him. He deserves all of this.”

Macklin and Rick Celebrini

Rick Celebrini helps son Macklin with his tie ahead of the NHL Draft. (Marcus Thompson / The Athletic)

While they worked on the tie, R.J., 11, the youngest of the Celebrini children, stared out of the 17th-story window. He was the life of the pre-draft festivities, with his persistent smile, timely quips and fly tan suit with white Nikes and a purple tie like his dad. Four feet of handsome.

Aiden, now fully dressed, joined R.J. in staring out of the window. “Are you inspired by this?” Aiden asked his little brother. R.J.’s “yes” came out fast, emphasized with a head nod.

“This is going to be you one day.”

They can take all the time they need. Because Macklin didn’t like his tie knot. Back to the mirror for Take 3.

It was like a sitcom watching them joust over this tie. Macklin, the politely irritated teen. Rick, the eager-to-help dad whose affection has broken containment. Both plagued in the moment by their perfectionism.

Charlie, 15, the princess of the Celebrini clan, returned to the room with her mom. An audible gasp greets Robyn, who’s in a sleeveless black dress and white open-toe heels, with a smile that matches the moment.

The Celebrinis don’t dress up often. They’ve spent most of the last decade on the go, galavanting around the land, following their sons’ hockey games and Charlie’s tennis matches.

Seeing mom dressed to the nines stopped them in their tracks.

“Ohhhhh,” R.J. said. “That’s what took you so long.”

Another critical trait Macklin gets from his dad is attention to detail. Rick has engrained it in them from their earliest days. Doing the drills right. Eating breakfast. Packing a bag. Macklin remembers him telling them John Wooden’s story about how he taught his team how to put on socks to avoid blisters.

“Since we were younger, it has been about details,” Macklin said. “Even the little things. That stuff adds up and will actually make a difference. That’s one of the things he’s told us throughout our whole lives.

“You can only really get it when you’re older. And you start to understand how important it is.”

That’s why the “hill” story is so important. Because it was the son understanding the father’s lessons well enough to take such a bold stand.

They’ve been groomed to deem rest and recovery important. Rick was from the era of going hard. He pushed and he pushed. But he stresses to them to value and prioritize replenishment.

To Macklin, the hill story was a violation of that indoctrination.

“I want you to understand this workout,” Macklin said. “It wasn’t like normal hills.”

The Celebrini residence is a ranch in Livermore, a little over 30 miles northeast of San Jose. Known for its vineyards and its cowboy history, Livermore sits in a valley halfway between mountain ranges. It gets hot starting in late spring. By the summer, leather seats in the car become hot plates grilling bare thighs.

The driveway up to the house has an incline. But so does the path from the entrance of their property to the driveway. The hill included scaling both inclines.

“It’s 100-degree heat. It was, like, run up and jog back. Lunges up, jog back. Run up, jog back. Lunges up — and he just kept going,” Macklin said, rubbing his legs as if they were hurting thinking about it.

“I’m never opposed to work. I’ll work. But it was after, like, three hours on the ice. Plus another two-hour lift and a workout. And then we went into this hill. We still had Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday left. So I was looking at it like, ‘I’m f—. I can’t do this anymore. I’m legit not going to have any energy. We’re fucked. Now we can’t do anything.”

Macklin speaking up illustrated both his intensity and his understanding of the science his father had been teaching him.

In many ways, Macklin seems destined to be a star. His parents are athletes and both still look like they can play. He’s had a big brother leading the way, a companion and inspiration. And because of his father’s connections, he’s been exposed to the behind-the-scenes process of professional athletes. Steve Nash, whose career Rick was instrumental in prolonging, is a family friend.

All that Rick has learned is funneled into his children. He grew up a typical Canadian hockey diehard. He played soccer, collegiately and professionally. He’s had his career ravaged by injury. He became an experienced physiotherapist as a result. His expertise in sports medicine and science, and how athletes tick, has taken him to the Olympics, to Major League Soccer, to the NBA.

“Every athlete that he works with,” Macklin said, “you hear them say, ‘Your dad is a genius, pretty much.’ But you’re like, ‘Whatever. He’s dad,’ But we all know he’s the best at what he does. Everything he does is for a purpose. And he will never say his way is the right way, but I think his way is the right way. And it works.”

Then, with a straight face, and as matter-of-factly as possible, Macklin made one thing clear.

“But I’ll never say it publicly.”

Macklin Celebrini

Macklin Celebrini, with mother Robyn and father Rick shortly after his name was called in Friday’s NHL Draft. “He’s matured so much,” Robyn says. “It’s unbelievable.” (Jeff Vinnick / NHLI via Getty Images)

The Celebrinis took the elevator down together. They walked through the Venetian lobby, ahead of the cameras, past the golden statue in the center, through the eyes and whispers of onlookers. Their collective elegance matched the gold and marble overtones of the Venice-inspired decor.

They got into a black Mercedes van. The ride to the Sphere was relatively quiet, conversations confined to their intended targets. If they were excited, if the magnitude of what was about to happen was settling in, you’d never know it. As competitive and fiery as they are, from hockey to chess to debates, overt isn’t their style. The Celebrinis prefer their emotion tucked in the inside pocket, not on their sleeve.

But they feel it.

As the van pulled up to the Sphere, the reward became increasingly tangible. A father validated.

Rick is the first to admit how hard it is playing both roles. The heart of the loving father can clash with the expertise of the diligent trainer. The hard lessons from the trainer don’t always sit well with the dad.

He’s pushed too hard before. He’s not pushed hard enough before.

“I sometimes, privately, remind him, like, ‘OK, you’re taking that a little too far,’” Robyn said, standing in the back of the Sharks’ suite at the Sphere. Macklin is off doing his rounds with the media. Rick is locked in a conversation with Joe Thornton, the Sharks legend who introduced Macklin as the No. 1 pick. “And he’s really open to that. … But he’s always put his relationship with the kids first. It’s just he’s so passionate. He can be pretty tough.”

Robyn’s expression changed. She tilted her head back. Rests her hand on her chest. Her countenance shifted to confidence.

“He doesn’t scare me,” she said, breaking character with a hearty laugh. “I handle him just fine.”

Rick, without hesitation, says Robyn makes it all work. When the Warriors hired Celebrini in 2018, the family stayed back in Vancouver for a year. She was practically a single mom running the home, shuffling four kids to various events. She’s the family heartbeat.

One thing he and Robyn won’t compromise on is character. The dad was hard on Macklin after one game this past season.

“At Providence,” Macklin said. “Maybe the worst game I’ve played in the last five, six years.”

The issue wasn’t his performance. It was his attitude. Rick was disappointed in the energy and approach of his superstar son. Celebrini has passed down those lessons from Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and Curry about playing with joy, never being guided by anything other than the love of the game and the privilege to play.

“So this game,” Rick said, “you never see this from him, but he came out and he was frustrated from the get-go. He was just really negative. Obviously, we’re all prone to that. It was just a situation where he needed to hear it afterwards. That part was unacceptable.”

Macklin nodded the whole time his father explained. He already knows. One of the constant lessons from his dad is about being a good person, being governed by integrity and gratefulness. He’s old enough now to appreciate it.

That’s part of what makes this day so extraordinary. Not just because Macklin was the No. 1 pick in the draft. But because he developed into a player and person worthy of the mantel. The Celebrini name is now internationally known and not just because of their father. But because of the son, a worthy ambassador of their name.

“He has matured so much,” Robyn said. “It’s unbelievable. Just the human being he evolved into. We’re just so proud of him.”

The “hill” story doesn’t end on the hill. But in the house.

Eventually, dad’s fiery speech ended. Aiden and Macklin walked away. Everybody showered and got ready for dinner.

Dad was at the table when he heard the door open behind him. While he had justification for his tough love, especially with his son’s pro potential, Rick knows himself and his tendencies. He knows his kids. He knows what they can handle, how they respond. They’ve been granted the freedom to be their full selves, which for Macklin means being chill, and kind, and funny, and occasionally combustible. This was one of those moments where dad expected the tension from the hill to make it to the dinner table.

But Macklin, instead, wrapped his arms around his seated father from behind. The son squeezed tight enough to convey a love they don’t often declare.

“And he gives me a kiss on the cheek,” Rick said. “And he’s like, ‘Thanks, da-da.’”

The sentimentality, especially among the Celebrini men, is most often tucked away behind the chiseled family jawline and intense eyes. They don’t lacquer on the heartwarming.

“I don’t remember that,” Macklin said, fighting off a smile as he barely hung onto the bit. “At all. He made that part up.”

Macklin Celebrini

Macklin Celebrini hugs brother Aiden after getting selected No. 1 overall by the San Jose Sharks. “I’m so proud of him,” Aiden said. “He deserves all of this.” (Jeff Vinnick / NHLI via Getty Images)


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(Top photo of, from left, Robyn, Aiden, Charlie, R.J., Macklin and Rick Celebrini on Thursday for NHL awards night: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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