CALGARY, Alberta--This isn't the first time Cale Makar has visited his hometown as an NHL player, but this trip to Calgary to play the Flames does mark the final leg of his first Western Canada swing with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs wrap up their five-game trek on Thursday at the Minnesota Wild after having already played contests over the past week at the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.
For the rookie Makar, it has been his first time experiencing the Western Canada cities as an NHLer. For hockey fans of those markets, it was their first chance to see the defenseman's abilities in action.
The Calgary native is coming off a career-high, four-assist outing on Saturday in the Avs' 5-4 overtime win at Vancouver. That came after he tallied the game-winning marker four days prior in a 4-0 victory in Winnipeg.
Tuesday's game is the first time that Makar has played a regular-season game at Scotiabank Saddledome after facing the Flames last spring during the Avalanche's Stanley Cup Playoff run. He made his NHL debut in Game 3 of the first-round series in Denver on April 15 and played his first outing in Calgary on April 19, a 5-1 Colorado win in Game 5 to clinch the best-of-seven set.
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound blueliner recorded the game-winning goal in his league debut and added an assist in the series-clinching outing. He wrapped up the postseason leading all rookie D-men in scoring with six points in 10 games.
"I don't think it really feels any different," Makar said of preparing to play in Calgary again. "You're coming here to do the same thing, win a game. You want to take every game with the same mentality, but at the same time it's nice to be back in the city and see some family and friends."
Video: Cale Makar returns to Calgary
While obtaining enough tickets for that playoff outing might have been hard to do seven months ago, this time around there will be a large Makar-cheering section in the "C of Red." Some of those people are die-hard Flames fans through and through, but there should still be plenty of burgundy and blue in the stands supporting Makar's current club.
"[My dad will] just takes down names, and they'll just create a section of people," said Makar guessing on how the tickets will be dispersed. "I don't know who all is coming, but I figured I would put 50 on the board for guests [passes]. We'll see what happens."
Colorado is 2-1-0 so far on the trip and owns a 4-1-0 record in its last six games, with Makar's play being a big reason why. The blueliner has 11 points (four goals and seven assists) in the last six outings and owns 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) through the first 20 games of the year--the most by any rookie and tied for the second-most by a defenseman.
Makar said his recent offensive run is due to the team finding its winning form again after they lost five straight.
"I don't know if it is so individual as more its a team. As the team gets success, you're going to have individual success," Makar said. "I just think that is the way we're going right now.
"We got a lot of good snipers on the team, so it makes it easy."
The Avs finding ways to win has made Makar's first Canada trip memorable to this point and has allowed the 21-year-old a chance to enjoy his region of the country with his teammates.
"It's been good. Every time you get to go on the road, it's a bonding experience for the guys," he said. "Obviously this is our second-longest road trip of the season so far. We just kind of have some fun with it and let it ride."
ANOTHER CALGARIAN RETURN
Cale Makar isn't the only Avalanche player returning to his hometown as Logan O'Connor will also suit up against the Flames in front of family and friends.
Born in Missouri City, Texas, O'Connor grew up in Calgary and was called up by the Avalanche on Monday with Matt Calvert (head) and Tyson Jost (upper body) out with injuries.
This will be O'Connor's first game of the season and sixth of his career. It will be his second time playing in Calgary as he appeared in last year's Jan. 9 Avs-Flames game at Scotiabank Saddledome.
"Any time you get to play in a game in general, it's pretty cool," O'Connor said. "Especially getting one at home, obviously there is a little better feeling to it with family and friends in town and just being around this rink my whole life."
Video: Calgary native Logan O'Connor on playing the Flames
The forward has appeared in 14 games this season with the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles, registering eight points (three goals, five assists). Among the improvements that he says he's tried to make in his second pro campaign is being "grittier" around the net and be better on the half-wall.
"Just try and round out my game down there. It's a developmental league," O'Connor says of his time in the AHL this season. "We have a great organization that helps us players down there develop and work on things that we might not get to work on up here, such as power-play time and those sort of aspects that can round out a game and create more offense and better defense all around."
The Avalanche's injured list is still long, but the team was able to take two names off of it as goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz will be available for the outing against the Flames.
Grubauer is expected to make his first start since Nov. 5 at the Dallas Stars after missing the past five outings with a nagging lower-body injury. Francouz suffered a concussion 31 seconds into last Tuesday's game in Winnipeg and has been sidelined for the last two contests.
"It's just that added layer of security that you I think you have, especially with your goalies being that last line of defense," said head coach Jared Bednar of getting his two netminders back. "I would say that we're giving up a little more than we would like to as far as scoring chances against. To have two guys that we trust back in there I think is definitely a positive."
Adam Werner came in relief of Francouz during that game and stopped all 40 shots he faced for a team shutout, while Antoine Bibeau made 28 saves in a victory on Saturday in Vancouver. Both goalies were reassigned to the Eagles on Tuesday.
"I thought the young guys that came up did a real nice job for us," Bednar said. "They both got us wins in difficult circumstances. They showed real well, but we would like to get our guys back in here tonight and hopefully they're playing well."