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NHL Stadium Series

Makar heads into Stadium Series as force for Avalanche

Rookie defenseman who grew up on outdoor rinks ready for Kings at Air Force

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Cale Makar's childhood was spent playing hockey outdoors in northwest Calgary, from the two community rinks near his house, including one that his father still helps flood, to the one in his backyard.

If you wanted to find Makar, a Colorado Avalanche rookie defenseman, it was easy.

"Every day," Makar's father, Gary, said by phone Friday. "On a Saturday, Laura [Cale's mom] would drop him off with a lunch, and it was just, 'See ya later.' She'd pick him up at dark."

 

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How life has changed for Makar since those days skating with his buddies outside.

He's now 21 years old and arguably the most impactful defenseman on his NHL team. He's third on the Avalanche with 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) in 48 games, 14 more points in eight fewer games than the next highest-scoring defenseman (Samuel Girard).

The rink he'll play on Saturday is not remotely close to the same as the ones he grew up on. This one at Falcon Stadium on the campus of the United States Air Force Academy was built exclusively for the 2020 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series between the Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, TVAS, AFN|sports2).

"It's definitely different," Makar said, smiling. "It's all high tech now, and they just throw up a rink wherever they want."

It's a stretch to call the Stadium Series game the biggest stage of Makar's career, because he's been on a few.

He played for Canada against the United States outdoors in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship at New Era Field, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

"He has the record of scoring the very first outdoor goal in the World Junior Championship," Gary Makar said.

Video: COL@OTT: Makar cranks home heavy one-timer for PPG

Makar played in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game last season for UMass-Amherst. Days later, he was playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Avalanche against the Calgary Flames, his hometown team.

But never once on any of those stages did Makar seem fazed. The pressure of trying to have a great game at Air Force in front of a national television audience, his father said, certainly shouldn't be a factor either.

"It's just the way he's always been, the upbringing, the ability to handle himself and live in the moment," Gary Makar said. "The mountain air, he seems pretty excited about that, but as far as pressure, I don't think it'll be a blip."

Makar's even-keeled personality and approach have been his calling cards throughout his rise to NHL, and part of the reason why if you ask anyone associated with the Avalanche they can't help but gush about the rookie and his future.

"How much time do you have?" defenseman Ian Cole said. "There's a lot of stuff. His skating is world class, but also great vision, great hockey sense, smart, analytical in the sense that he's always adjusting and looking at plays and trying to get better, and just a very mature kid. For how young he is and how inexperienced he is, I guess, game-wise, very mature and makes adjustments as quick as just about anybody I've seen."

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar praised Makar's consistency.

"He contributes on a nightly basis on the offensive side of it, and equally as much on the defensive side of things for our team," Bednar said. "He's been an impact player from Day One."

Makar tries his hardest to tune out the praise, especially the talk about how the race for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year is down to him and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes. He learned how to block out the hype last season, when he was in the running for the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in NCAA men's hockey.

Makar won it.

"It's not something that I really focus on," Makar said. "Everybody's individual success will come with team success."

Gary Makar said, "That's part of the focus. And Quinn Hughes is a phenomenal player, but how he does doesn't impact Cale at all because he has no control over it."

Makar has control over his own game, and he doesn't seem satisfied.

He questioned his consistency.

"I don't think I found that quite yet," he said.

Makar said he has improved in how he recovers to be ready for the next shift, the next game, but he still watches his shifts and questions what he's doing sometimes.

"I can be better," Makar said. "I mean, we did video today, and there are points where I was like, 'Wow, it doesn't look like I'm trying out there.' You've got to look yourself in the mirror."

Video: COL@BUF: Makar reaches milestone on Nichushkin's goal

Gary Makar said he has noticed his son become more comfortable as the season has gone on, but "he's still being pretty conservative out there. We know just from watching him that he's got a lot more and can be like Erik Karlsson (of the San Jose Sharks), every time a threat."

Makar needs to be that for the Avalanche no matter the stage, or the weather. He's that important.

"He's created a heck of a buzz and he's a heck of a player," Cole said. "He's the kind of guy that a franchise can build around for a long time."

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