A version of this story appeared in the 2018-19 fourth edition of AVALANCHE, the official game magazine of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club. For more feature stories, purchase a copy of the magazine during Avs home games at Pepsi Center. All proceeds from game-magazine sales support youth hockey associations in Colorado.
Cale Makar's ultimate goal is to make it to the NHL, and the defenseman wants to be as prepared as possible for the top league in the world when he gets there.
That was one of the factors in the Colorado Avalanche prospect's decision to go back for his sophomore season at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It's a choice Makar, UMass and possibly the Avs in the future will benefit from.
"I think I'm definitely getting there," Makar says of his NHL readiness. "I think my decision to go back to school, there are still a few things that I want to tweak in the defensive side of my game."
The UMass Minutemen are having a record season and a large credit goes to Makar and the rest of his teammates brought in by former coach John Micheletto and current bench boss Greg Carvel. Massachusetts has a 28-9 overall record--which included a nine-game winning streak from Oct. 26 to Nov. 30--won the Hockey East Conference's regular season title, earned the school's first-ever No. 1 national ranking earlier this year and is one of the favorites going into the national tournament.
UMass is the No. 4 overall seed heading into its second-ever NCAA National Championship. The school will be the top team in the Northeast Regional and will face Harvard in the first round on Friday.
Makar, an alternate captain for the Minutemen this season, led all Hockey East players in scoring with 46 points in 36 games, registering 15 goals and 31 assists. He was named a unanimous selection for the Hockey East Player of the Year last Thursday.
Overall, the 20-year-old is tied for fifth in the country and ranks second among all defensemen in scoring. His points and assists are the most ever by a Massachusetts defender in a single season.
Prior to his time at UMass, Makar produced 130 points (34 goals and 96 assists) over the course of two full seasons with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He went on to win two championships, rookie of the year, most outstanding defenseman and MVP honors for both the regular season and playoffs during his time at the junior-A level.
Colorado chose Makar with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, making him the highest draft pick in both AJHL and UMass history.
The Calgary, Alberta, native had a strong first season of college hockey in Amherst, producing five goals and 16 assists in 34 outings and was named to the Hockey East's All-Rookie Team.
He was also on the Team Canada squad that won the gold medal at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship and finished with three goals and eight points, both the most among tournament defensemen. Makar was also chosen for the World Juniors' all-star team, and he called the overall experience "tough mentally" but something that will help prepare him for the next level.
"Definitely playing in the NCAA where you don't play as many games and then going to the World Juniors where you're pretty much playing every other night, it's more the NHL style of play where you're going every other day," Makar said of playing at the 2018 World Juniors. "I think in that respect it prepares you for that high level of intensity that you're going to have at the next level."
Makar built on his solid freshman campaign with an even better sophomore one. His play on both sides of the ice has improved, and he is a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's top player.
"I think I made a good decision to go to college and to go back for a second year is a smart move for myself as well," Makar said. "Coming off the first year, I think I learned a lot of things and built a lot of strengths whether it is the defensive aspect of my game or just my body and myself."
It appears to have been a choice that could soon pay dividends for the Avalanche.