Column: Cale Makar, the wonder kid

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Massachusetts defenseman Cale Makar (16) controls the puck during the second period in a semifinal against Denver during the Frozen Four NCAA men’s college hockey tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Last Saturday night, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs blanked the UMass Minutemen in the men’s hockey national championship to earn their second-consecutive title and third in program history.

For the Minutemen, it was a heartbreaking loss to the best season the school’s hockey program has ever seen. Much of the success UMass had this season is due to the incredible year-long performance of sophomore defenseman Cale Makar.

The 20-year-old Canadian played in 41 games for the Minutemen this season, racking up 16 goals and 33 assists. His 49 points were first among all defensemen, and just one point behind the co-leaders for all skaters in Division I. Makar was named the Hockey East Association’s Player of the Year, named first-team All-American and was the first defensemen in twenty years to lead the Hockey East in scoring.

Those accolades were enough for Makar to earn college hockey’s most prestigious award, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given to college hockey’s top player. Makar was the first player from UMass to win the award in the 38-year history of the trophy.

The defenseman is a talent that will transcend his two years in Amherst. Makar put the Minutemen on the map and made history while doing it. This season’s 31 wins surpassed the program record of 21 wins set back in 2007. Makar no doubt had a hand in helping his coach Greg Carvel take home National Coach of the Year honors, as he no doubt helped the Minutemen fill out the Mullins Center to capacity almost every home game.

“You see 7,000-8,000 in the stands, it’s just good for school spirit,’’ said UMass president Marty Meehan in this Boston.com article.“Even when you’re recruiting students and faculty that aren’t going to play hockey, if you put them into an arena with this kind of enthusiasm, it’s contagious, and it’s good for universities. That’s why universities want excellence in everything.’’

A generational talent like Makar helps set the stage for years to come. Recruits will take notice rising program and sold out arenas, and that’s how powerhouses are built.

Except Makar won’t be in Amherst next year to reap any of the benefits. Following Saturday’s loss, he signed an entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche, the team that took him with the fourth-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Following the signing, the 20-year-old found himself on the big stage once again. Makar was penciled into the lineup in Game 3 of Colorado’s opening round playoff matchup against the Western Conference’s top-seed Calgary Flames.

And wouldn’t you know it, just 48 hours after a heartbreaking loss in the national championship game, Makar made a difference in an NHL playoff game by netting home a goal to give the Avalanche a 3-0 lead. With the goal Makar became only the fifth rookie and first defenseman in the NHL expansion era to score a goal in his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoff.

Makar’s parents were both in Colorado for his son’s special night. His father, Gary, could not believe his own eyes.

“It’s a total surreal, pinch-me moment all wrapped into one. It’s insane,” he told The Associated Press. “Couldn’t be more excited.”

Get excited, Mr. Makar. Your son is about to take over.


Connor Donahue is the digital editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at connor.f.donahue@uconn.edu. He tweets at @conn_donahue.

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