It has been all smiles for Cale Makar since June 23 when he was drafted fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche.
The 18-year-old, fresh off a stellar season with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, is looking forward to his future in hockey and developing his game. While being drafted No. 4 is an accomplishment, that doesn't mean he can't keep pushing to improve.
"I tend to keep myself fairly level on that term, but reality has set in now as the work has begun to pile on so I am excited to get going," Makar said to ColoradoAvalanche.com at the team's summer development camp.
The Calgary, Alberta, native had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) this past season with the Bandits, and the defenseman followed his regular-season performance with an additional 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 13 postseason contests, leading his team to a second-consecutive AJHL championship. He also earned regular-season and playoff MVP honors and was named the Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year.
As he now looks ahead, the new draftee's next step is playing college hockey at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He decided on UMass after the staff reached out early during the recruiting process about playing in the tough Hockey East conference.
"Part of my decision to go there was that they were one of the first colleges to approach me," Makar stated. "From there, I just kind of kept in contact with them. They had very personable coaches at the time. I really liked the campus and the opportunity to be in the Hockey East, a competitive conference."
The Minutemen brought on board head coach Greg Carvel and assistant coaches Ben Barr and Jared DeMichiel in 2016, and the trio of coaches should help Makar's growth as a player. Carvel was previously an assistant coach for the Ottawa Senators from 2004-2011 and was a part of the group that helped develop Erik Karlsson, the Senators' standout defenseman and a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best blueliner.
It is a promising match for a coach and player, as Makar views his game as very similar to that of Karlsson.
"In terms of Erik Karlsson, we have very similar tendencies in the ways we break pucks out, join the rush and especially off the line," he said.
UMass is also staying young this season, with a roster set to include 11 freshmen.
"It's going to be an exciting time for the program," Makar said. "I always like a challenge in terms of playing teams, and hopefully we will be the underdogs and it will be a fun time there."
Video: Cale Makar discusses UMass-Amherst commitment
After a 2016-17 season that ended with a 5-29-2 record, the Minutemen hockey team is looking to improve by bringing in strong players, like Makar, to help turn things around.
The defensemen is all about staying loyal and fulfilling his commitments. When asked at the NHL Draft if he wavered at all knowing there was a coaching change and a struggling program, Makar responded, "Not at all."
He continued, "I think that I committed obviously under the old coaches, and when that coaching change happened, I just kind of wanted to wait it out. I wanted to stay loyal and see what happened, and I knew they were going to hire somebody great, and I think I made the right decision with sticking there because, like I said, Carvel and the assistants there are going to be immensely incredible for my development, I think."
Makar recently showed off his talents for Team Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan. He had one goal and one assist during the exhibition and finished with a plus-1 rating. His single tally came at a pivotal time on Aug. 4 against Sweden, tying the contest 4-4 in the third period. The marker reenergized the Canadians as they registered three more goals to pull off a 7-4 win.
As the summer comes to an end and the 2017-18 season nears, Makar is ready to begin play at UMass and build his game to become a player worthy of one day being in the NHL.