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Morning Skate Report: Makar to Make Avs Debut in Game 3

Hobey Baker Award winner signed his entry-level contract with Colorado on Sunday

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

It's been a whirlwind last few days for Cale Makar.

On Thursday, he helped his University of Massachusetts Minutemen defeat the University of Denver in the Frozen Four semifinals. Friday saw him be named college hockey's top player as the winner of the Hobey Baker Award. The next day, he competed in the NCAA national championship game against Minnesota Duluth.

Sunday brought Makar signing his first pro contract with the Colorado Avalanche and traveling to Denver to join the team. Tonight, he will be in the Avs' lineup as they continue their first-round playoff series against the Calgary Flames.

"It's very quick. Everything kind of just goes by quick and you've kind of got to pay attention to everything, but I don't think it's really sunk in for me yet," Makar said. "Hopefully it doesn't for a little bit."

Makar, who will wear No. 8 in his first NHL game this evening, will jump into the fire, so to speak, as the Avalanche tries to take its first lead in the best-of-seven set. Colorado won 3-2 in overtime on Saturday to split its first two games in Calgary.

Video: Cale Makar after his first morning skate with the Avs

Head coach Jared Bednar recognizes the difficulties in front of Makar and is trying to help make his transition to the pro game a smooth one. Or at least as easy as possible during a fierce postseason series.

"He understands that it will be a completely different level stepping up into the NHL," said Bednar. "When you're joining a series like this, mid-series against a real good team in Calgary, it's not going to be easy… I want to give him some information so he is up to speed with how we play, on what the series has looked like, but I don't want to give him too much where we freeze him up. I want him to play and use his instincts."

Bednar said he thought through all the different scenarios before choosing to play Makar in Game 3, but his talk with the former student-athlete this morning solidified his decision.

"It's a big decision, a young guy coming out of college, but what makes this decision easier is the type of player he is and the type of person he is and the type of year he had in college," Bednar said. "He's a guy that we want to get into the lineup and see if he can help us. Tonight is a perfect opportunity to do that."

Video: Bednar on returning home for Game 3 and Cale Makar

Makar is a puck-moving defenseman that led all college rear guards in scoring with 49 points (16 goals and 33 assists) in 41 games. His skillset made him the highest drafted player in UMass and Alberta Junior Hockey League history when the Avalanche chose him at No. 4 overall in 2017, and he should fit in nicely with a Colorado squad that likes to use its speed to get up in the rush.

"I don't think it'll be hopefully too different. Obviously our team is coming off a championship game in NCAA hockey, which was pretty fast-paced as well," Makar said. "I don't think the speed or anything will be too much of a challenge for me if I play."

Bednar said he plans on using Makar on one of the power-play units, but he is going to try and make the 20-year-old's adjustment as easy as possible. The Avs coach said he's going to start him with veteran Patrik Nemeth, but the duo won't stay together all night.

"We're going to move him around a little bit. Try and put him in some positions to succeed," Bednar said.

For Makar, he will be the first Avalanche player to make his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since Joey Hishon in Game 4 of the first-round series at the Minnesota Wild on April 24, 2014. He will be the first defenseman in franchise history to accomplish the feat.

While playing a very meaningful NHL game in April will be a new challenge for Makar, he does have big game experience to lean on. The two most recent college contests against Denver and Duluth help, as does his time at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship where he won a gold medal with Team Canada.

Makar led all tournament defensemen with three goals and eight points at those World Juniors and was later named to the media all-star team.

Tyson Jost was a teammate of Makar's during the 2015 World Junior A Challenge, and the Avs forward knows what it is like to jump from the college game to the pros as that is what he did from the University of North Dakota in March 2017.

"I just said play your game, don't kind of get awe-struck by the whole thing," Jost said. "I mean it's obviously tough, your first game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I remember my first game, I was nervous and it was [at the end of the regular season]. Definitely a different circumstance for him, but he's such a good player that he'll excel no matter what. I'm really happy for him and excited for him."

Adding another layer of intrigue to Makar's debut is that he is from Calgary, Alberta, and grew up a Flames fan.

"It's going to be weird," Makar said. "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. I don't really know how to describe it, but it's going to be an interesting feeling."

His allegiance is now fully with the Avalanche, and he is excited to join the team's pursuit in eliminating the Flames from the postseason, even if some of his friends from back home disagree.

For him, this moment is what he's worked most of his life for.

"You're going to feel a bunch of different emotions," Makar said of his first NHL game. "You got to be prepared for that. You kind of live your life in order to get to this moment. It will be a fun one."

GIRARD DAY-TO-DAY

Makar addition means that there will need to be a subtraction in the Avalanche's lineup, and that will be fellow defenseman Samuel Girard.

Girard's scratch isn't a healthy one as he is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, according to Bednar.

Girard was injured early in overtime of Saturday's game at Calgary after he took what appeared to be a high hit from Flames forward Sam Bennet. He was able to get to the Avs' bench on his own, but he immediately went to the locker room and did not return to action.

The young blueliner also missed three outings in last year's postseason with an upper-body injury.

VIEW: Avalanche vs. Flames Game 3 Projected Lineup

 

PARTY OUTSIDE

The Avalanche will be holding a special tailgate party, presented by Bud Light, outside of the west entrance of Pepsi Center before and during tonight game.

The festivities begin three hours prior to puck drop and features live music, food and drinks and plenty of giveaways, including a pair of tickets to Game 3.

For fans without tickets to the game, they're invited to stay during the contest and watch it on big screens outside. Tailgate chairs and food are welcome, but drinks of any sort are prohibited. Outdoor temperatures in Denver at puck drop is expected to be in the mid-60's with some cloud cover.

The contest itself will be televised locally on Altitude and nationally in the United States on CNBC. It will be broadcasted across Canada on CBC and TVA Sports 2.

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