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BSN Exclusive: Avs' top prospect doing for his team what's never been done before

Adrian Dater Avatar
December 5, 2018

It’s not quite Christmas yet, and it’s definitely not April Fool’s time. Regardless, it was a shock to anybody who has paid attention to college hockey these last 24 years: On Monday, the UMass-Amherst Minutemen – a team with just two winning seasons in its 24-year history – was ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 12-1-0 record.

It’s been a team effort at UMass, under coach Greg Carvel, but one player has stood out taller than everyone else. That player would be top Avalanche prospect, Cale Makar.

“I think you could easily make the case that no one’s been any better in (NCAA Division 1 hockey) than Cale,” Carvel told BSN Denver on Wednesday. “He’s been just tremendous.”

In 13 games for the Minutemen, Makar, the fourth overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft by the Avs, has six goals, 18 points and a plus-10. If the voting for the Hobey Baker Award were today, Makar would probably win.

It’s been quite a dramatic difference from his freshman season, one in which Carvel said the 20-year-old defenseman from Calgary struggled at times. What’s been the biggest difference?

“I think his conditioning is much better,” Carvel said. “When we played back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday last year, we would have to cut down his ice time on that Saturday night. At the end of games, he didn’t have the same energy level. His skating was always very good, but that’s improved too.”

The Avalanche have kept a close eye on Makar this season. Team development consultant Brett Clark has been to “at least half” of the Minutemen’s games so far, Carvel said. While Makar is expected to turn pro when the UMass season is over – he could be in the Avalanche lineup at the end of the season and into the playoffs – that is not official.

“I have no comment on that part of it,” Carvel said.

If the Avs do sign Makar to a contract at the end of this season, a year would be burned off his three-year entry-level deal. Would that be worth it, to get maybe only a handful of regular-season games from him, and into the playoffs? The Avs will cross that bridge when they come to it.

Makar could have turned pro after his freshman season, but pledged to Carvel that he would commit to a second year. That decision has been quite a boon to the program, which has been one of the poorest-performing in NCAA history, up until this season.

Attendance is picking up at the 8,387-seat Mullins Center, with “another thousand fans” showing up most every weekend.

“Obviously, it’s been really exciting for the players and the fans and the students,” Carvel said.

Makar has been paired with freshman Marc Del Gaizo, who has nine points in 13 games himself.

“They feed off each other well,” Carvel said. “I think Cale feels more comfortable passing the puck to others now, because he has more confidence in them. There were times he tried to do things a little much much himself last year. He’s a quiet leader for us. He isn’t a rah-rah guy. He leads by example.”

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