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Makar's Memorable Week

Once-in-a-lifetime moments culminated in the rookie defenseman's first NHL goal

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

It's stuff of fairytale, made for the big screen, maybe even legend. Whatever it is, it's hard to script a better start to Cale Makar's NHL tenure with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nearly 35 hours after he signed his first pro contract, Makar scored his first NHL goal--on his first shot on goal, nonetheless--to help the Avalanche top the Calgary Flames 6-2 on Monday in Game 3 of the clubs' Round 1 series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It was pretty exciting," Makar said of his first game he's dreamed about playing in since he was a kid. "The nerves went away after the first period, but it was fun."

It was easy to not have many butterflies when Colorado took a 3-0 lead and outshot Calgary 21-8 in the opening 20 minutes.

Along with his goal, Makar finished his first NHL game with two shots on net on four attempts, one takeaway and two blocked shots. He saw 14:19 of ice time, with 2:19 of it coming on the power play.

"Right from the get-go he was involved," said head coach Jared Bednar postgame. "He looked calm, cool and collected. I thought he obviously makes a nice play jumping up in the rush and getting a goal, getting the shot off, and there was some deception to it. Then he followed it up with a big play in the defensive zone. We got caught on a short 2-on-1 down the boards and a guy open at the net, and he lays his stick down and breaks it up and it comes back to him and he still gets another block. So he's making some good defensive plays. I liked him. He uses his legs and he executes."

Video: Makar on scoring in his NHL debut in the playoffs

Selected fourth overall by the Avalanche in the 2017 NHL Draft, Makar entered Monday's contest as only the fourth player in franchise history to make his NHL debut during the postseason, and the first since Joey Hishon did it in Game 4 of the first-round series at the Minnesota Wild on April 24, 2014.

Makar closed his first outing as the only one of the four to record a point, and it was a big one.

After having his first two shot attempts blocked, Makar's third one hit twine. He received a pass from Nathan MacKinnon, raced down the slot, kept the puck away from three Flames skaters and scored on a low wrister. The crowd at Pepsi Center erupted in a way not often heard, and Makar's parents in the stands hugged and looked on almost in disbelief in what they saw.

The tally ended up as the game-winning goal.

"Nate made a really good drop pass there, and honestly I just tried to get it inside the D and try to slip one on net and hope for the rebound," Makar said. "But fortunately, it went in."

Video: CGY@COL, Gm3: Makar scores in NHL debut

MacKinnon gave credit to Makar on the play as his confidence on the ice and communication with his teammates, most of them he had only met that morning, were key in developing the scoring chance.

"He didn't just get it and shoot it or try and panic and give it back to me. He stopped it on his backhand, dropped his shoulder, I think he probably looked around to see if anybody was backdoor, then just snapped it five-hole," MacKinnon said. "And I hear him too, he's calling for it in his first game ever. He's yelling 'three, three, three,' at me. That's great, you want a player to be aggressive and assertive and I was really impressed by that.

"I remember when I first came in, I was shy and I didn't want to yell for the puck. First game, it was really impressive to watch him."

Makar became the first player in franchise history to score his first career goal while making his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he is the seventh player--and only defenseman--in league history to make his debut in the postseason and find the back of the net.

Avs rear guard Ian Cole is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and has played with some of the best players in the world, but he also came away impressed with the poise and patience the 20-year-old had in his first contest.

"There are some just natural things that guys have. He's certainly got a lot of those tools just from one game," Cole said. "It'll be a treat to see how he matures and continues to get better."

His debut in the Avs' playoff victory in Game 3 was a culmination of busy week that transcended the continent, two countries and two leagues.

One day after helping the University of Massachusetts Minutemen defeat the University of Denver in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals, Makar accepted the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player in Buffalo, New York, on Friday. On Saturday, he skated in his final collegiate game as UMass fell to Minnesota Duluth in the national title contest.

Makar began his professional journey hours later, signing a three-year, entry-level contract with the Avalanche on Sunday morning. As a Canadian citizen, he had to first cross the U.S.'s northern border and reenter the country on his new work visa, and after some detours along the way and a four-hour flight from Toronto, Makar finally arrived in Colorado that evening.

"It's been pretty crazy, I was supposed to fly out of Buffalo yesterday, but ended up getting re-routed to Toronto," Makar said in his first interaction with the Denver media since inking his pro deal. "So it's been a long travel day but I'm rested up."

Monday brought his first skate with his new teammates, and they welcomed him with open arms, not without embarrassing him first with a loud cheer as steped on the ice for Game 3's morning session.

"I don't think it's really sunk in for me yet," Makar said following practice, "but this is a great group of guys I can just tell, meeting everybody right off the bat."

He soon learned that he was going to suit up in his first game in the league and against his hometown team.

The Calgary, Alberta, native has memories of the Flames' Stanley Cup run in 2004 that ended in a Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and now here he is, trying to do the same thing in disrupting their championship hopes.

"It's a team that I watched growing up, it's a team that I've watched for the past few years before everything with the Avs," Makar said. "I don't really know how to describe it, but it's going to be an interesting feeling."

Suited up with No. 8 on his back--bringing back old memories of another offensive-minded defenseman in Sandis Ozolinsh for Avalanche fans--Makar didn't look out of place on the ice as he helped Colorado produce 56 shots and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Makar had played in big games before--the national championship game 48 hours earlier as exhibit A and winning a gold medal while recording eight points (three goals and five assists) with Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship as exhibit B. However, the intensity of a fierce Stanley Cup Playoffs series was a new experience for blueliner.

"It's very physical out there," he said. "I would say that's probably the biggest difference, but you're kind of gearing up in playoffs the whole time, ramping up the pace. It's nothing that I haven't seen before in terms of pace, but it was very physical."

It's been a whirlwind week for Makar, and he's trying to enjoy each moment while also living in the present. There will be time for reflection and celebration after the Avalanche's postseason run is over, which the team hopes isn't until mid-June.

But being a part of a playoff victory and scoring the game-winning goal in his very first NHL game, could it get any better than that?

"Honestly, probably not," he said. "It worked out well against a team that you've rooted for your entire life until now. It was pretty special."

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