DENVER — Cale Makar will make his NHL debut for the Colorado Avalanche against the Calgary Flames, the team he rooted for growing up, in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round at Pepsi Center on Monday (10 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVAS2, ALT).
A Calgary native, the 20-year-old defenseman from the University of Massachusetts will wear No. 8 and be paired with Patrik Nemeth to start. The Avalanche’s decision to play Makar, who signed a three-year entry-level contract on Sunday, was made a little easier because defenseman Samuel Girard will not play in Game 3 and is day to day with an upper-body injury.
The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.
“It’s a weird feeling going up against the team you grew up loving, but my allegiance lies with the Colorado Avalanche now,” said Makar, who on Friday was named the winner of the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the top men’s player in NCAA ice hockey. “Growing up and watching them in the ’04 (Stanley) Cup run, it’s a different feeling, but obviously I’m with the Avs now.”
Makar said his family members aren’t conflicted. “No, they’re fully with the Avs now,” he said, “but I’ve definitely got a lot of messages from friends who are going the other way.”
Makar said he managed to get plenty of rest after arriving in Denver on Sunday night. He was scheduled to fly from Buffalo, where on Saturday UMass lost 3-0 to Minnesota Duluth in the Frozen Four national championship game, but that flight was delayed. He drove to Toronto for a direct flight to Denver but had to wait 90 minutes in customs before taking off.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” he said. “It was a long travel day, but I’m rested and fine to go. Hopefully [playing in the NHL] won’t be too different. Our team’s coming off a championship game in NCAA hockey and that was pretty fast-paced as well, so I don’t think this will be too much of a challenge for me.”
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said this will be the first time he will see Makar play in person, other than at development camps in the offseason, but he watched UMass play several times on television.
“He’s a smart kid,” Bednar said. “I talked to him this morning and he understands that it’s going to be a completely different level stepping up to the NHL and he’s joining a series like this, mid-series, against a real good team like Calgary. It’s not going to be easy and he understands that.
“Just encouraging him to go play his game. We’ll talk to him throughout the game and see what we see. I want to give him some information so he’s up to speed in how we play, but I don’t want to give him too much so we freeze him up. I want him to go play and use his instincts; it’s what he’s been great at his whole life. He’s an intense guy, a great skater, he goes to work, and that’s all you can ask for.”
The past several days have been a whirlwind for Makar, but he’s ready for his NHL debut.
“I don’t think it’s too much pressure. It is what it is and you’re going to feel a bunch of different emotions, but you got to be prepared for that,” Makar said. “You kind of lived your life trying to get to this moment and I think it’ll be a fun one. I’m excited to get going.”