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Cale Makar is a Generational Defenseman



While most of my previous articles have been based around the band Muse, I do have other interests outside of music. One of those interests is hockey, more specifically the Colorado Avalanche.  I have been following the Avs since the end of the 2021-2022 regular season, where the team would go on one hell of a playoff run. After only losing four games in four playoff series, Colorado defeated the reigning back to back champions Tampa Bay Lightning, thus winning the 2022 Stanley Cup. Ever since, I have listened to every single Avalanche game on the radio. Last year, I was able to attend two home games at Ball Arena, both of which were wins for the Avs. During the course of the last season as well as the Cup Run, one player on the team has stood out. While an argument can be made for other members of the Avalanche such as Nathan MacKinnon or Mikko Rantanen, there is one member of the team who has collected a long list of accolades, awards, and simply outstanding stats. The winner of the 2022 Conn Smythe for most valuable player, 2022 James Norris Trophy for best defensemen, 2020 Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, and 2019 Hobey Baker Award for best NCAA level player, it's Cale Makar. 

If you've been following the NHL for the past few years, especially the Colorado Avalanche, then Cale Makar should be no stranger. Makar's first goal came sixteen minutes into his first career NHL game, and he since has never let up. During the 2022 Playoffs, Makar had eight goals and twenty one assists, which meant twenty nine points in only twenty games played. This was easily enough to earn him the Conn Smythe for MVP in the postseason. His regular season stats clocked in at twenty eight goals and fifty eight assists, which is absolutely incredible for a defenseman. While not as high last year, his total of sixty six points in sixty games earned him yet another Norris nomination for best defenseman. This year, Cale is off to yet another quick start. Through twenty one games, he has six goals and twenty six assists. That puts Cale Makar on track for over one hundred points this season. Makar also leads the league in assists and plus/minus, at twenty six and plus twenty respectively. 

Obviously, just based on stats alone, Makar is one of the best players in the NHL right now, and is arguably the best defenseman. But what allows for this kind of play? Why is Cale Makar so good at the game of hockey? Recently, Makar did an interview with Sportsnet, the Canadian Sports Specialty Channel. The two interviewees were Scott Oake and Greg Millen, and credit to them for interviewing Cale. One of the major things Makar attributes to his play is skating. Throughout his career, Cale's skating and edgework has been something to behold. His lethal combination of speed, accuracy, and again edgework make Makar one of the most dynamic skaters in the NHL. Millen asked Makar, "Edges. I've been wanting to ask you this for so long, I mean, when did that start? You're a magnificent skater, obviously, but when you work your edges the way you do is just something to behold. Is there a story there at all?" Makar responded with," I don't know if I can kind of relate it to anything specific, I just was always kind of that guy that liked to play around with different edgework and stuff like that on ice. There were so many camps I went to and so many people that helped with things like power skating or whatnot, even more of the stuff I do recently. It's always been a work in progress and I'm always trying to learn new things. I feel like from a young age I've just tried to be good edgewise." 

Again, just watching the way Cale Makar skates across the ice during a game is something otherworldly. His legs and skates dance back and forth, allowing for lightning fast movement with and without the puck. While Makar is a defenseman, his offensive prowess is also outstanding. Makar is often coined as the "quarterback" of the Avalanche Power Play. The first power play line this year consists of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Ryan Johansen, Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar. Johansen is the faceoff man, while Nichushkin is the netfront presence in charge of screening the goalie and deflecting shots. MacKinnon and Rantanen serve as the two wingers/forwards. They skate around and between the circles, setting up passes and one timers to each other. Finally, Cale Makar is the man at the point. As the "quarterback", Makar receives the puck and dishes it between the other Avs skaters. Cale will "walk the blue line" with the puck, skating back and forth while evading defenders. If he finds a shooting lane, Makar unleashes his deadly wrister. Sometimes, these shots are so fast that they fly straight into the net. Other times, Nichushkin may get a deflection to beat the opposing goaltender. Makar will also pass to Rantanen and MacKinnon to set up their shots, leading to even more opportunities for Power Play goals. This setup, with Makar at the helm, has led to Makar's point total to increase even further, not to mention the other four members. While this setup isn't the best in the NHL in terms of percentage, and also sometimes struggles to score consistently, it still works in contributing to overall offense for the Avalanche. 

Offensively, Makar has scored some outrageous goals. His best came on January 4th, 2022. It was the Avalanche and Blackhawks at the United Center in Chicago, and both teams had three goals after three periods. Halfway into overtime, Makar had the puck along the boards behind the Blackhawks net. Makar rounded the boards to the other side of the ice. After luring a defender into coverage, skating on his outside edges, he slammed on his skates and reversed directions, leaving Kirby Dach of the Blackhawks in the dust. As Makar skated to the goalie, he moved the puck back and forth between his fore and backhand. Cale then left the puck on the backhand, threw it up and over the goalie's shoulder and into the back of the net. A simply incredible goal for the overtime winner. 

Later in the interview, Makar was asked about this goal. Scott Oake asked, "So that goal is about two things. First of all, good hands to finish the play and beat Marc Andre Fleury, and then your superior skating. You are one of the best skating defenseman to ever play the game. What do you attribute to making you such a tremendous skater?" Makar answered with, "I think a lot of repetition for me, especially I always loved playing forward at a young age. Anytime someone was injured I would volunteer and kind of step up and skate forward. But then the back end, and eventually you figure out how to skate backwards which was so much fun." 



This attitude towards playing defense has allowed Makar to stop some of the best offensive players in the NHL. Night in and night out, Cale makes unbelievable plays to shut down scoring chances for other teams. The best example of this comes from the 2022 Western Conference Final. The Avalanche were pitted against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. In case you've been living under a rock, McDavid has been an absolute beast over his NHL career. His skills offensively make him arguably the best player in the league, at least on offense. When it came to the Western Conference Final two years ago, the expectation was lots of high octane hockey. Full speed offense, lots of goals, and an all out battle between McDavid and MacKinnon. The first game definitely lived up to expectations. Fourteen total goals, with the Avalanche winning eight to six. While the Oilers were down, they definitely weren't out. But with the next game being a four to zero victory for Colorado, the tide turned. The absolutely insane defensive level of the Avalanche proved too much for Edmonton. The major factor, of course, being Cale Makar. Whenever Cale was on the ice, the Oilers had a noticeably more difficult time generating offense. Makar got his moment to shine in Game One. McDavid stole the puck in the Oilers zone and proceeded to sprint down the ice. Makar was the only man back between McDavid and Kuemper, the Avs goalie. If there's one man you don't want to give a breakaway to, it's Connor McDavid. But the Avalanche had no reason to worry. As McDavid worked into the circles, Makar played a perfect poke check, pushing the puck into the corner and out of danger. The true battle, McDavid vs Makar, had been decided by the end of the series. With Colorado sweeping the Oilers four games to nothing, Makar and the Avalanche came out as clear victors, which was later cemented by their victory of the Stanley Cup. 

Cale's love of hockey has led to him becoming the best defenseman in the NHL, and also one of the best players in the league. With Makar signed through 2027 with the Avalanche, watching him grow and get even better throughout the next few years will be a treat to watch for Avs fans. 



 

Sources: 

“Cale Makar Stats and News.” Official Site of the National Hockey League, 2023. https://www.nhl.com/avalanche/player/cale-makar-8480069

Cale Makar Shares How He Developed His Norris Trophy-Level Skills | After Hours. YouTube. YouTube, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zC9tmlHHvY8&t=3s


Bio:

Austin Eide is currently a junior at Poudre High School. This will be his first year writing for the Poudre Press. He enjoys playing trumpet in Pep Band and is also Captain of the Build Team for 159 Alpine Robotics. Austin also loves building with LEGO and making stop motion movies on YouTube. His blog is dedicated to music, hockey, band, and more!

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