Two years ago on July 24th, the path of two siblings whose futures would always be linked through family, were brought together in another overlap. Cale Makar, at the time 22-years-old and a Calder Trophy winner, signed a six-year contract extension with the Colorado Avalanche.
A few hours later, selected late in the seventh round of the 2021 draft, Taylor Makar joined the ranks of his older brother within the Colorado Avalanche organization.
Their paths were destined to be different. Taylor Makar, a left-shot forward with an imposing physical build at 6’3” and 190 lbs, embarked on his first NCAA season last year.
Like many young players, he contemplated the major junior route, but Makar has prioritized the importance of development throughout his journey.
“It was always about development, time for development,” he said. “I was always kind of growing fast, kind of a skinnier guy, not too much muscle. That’s still something I’m trying to work on is putting on muscle.”
“I thought getting an education while developing my body by play, and being able to make the transition a bit longer to hopefully go to pro or wherever the next step will be, was a lot nicer,” he explained. He cited the rapid play of major junior as a factor to consider.
“(In) following my cousins (and) my brother’s footsteps, I saw how much you can make your body stronger (and) get better on and off the ice. That (played) a big role.”
Similar to his brother, he decided to pursue the collegiate route within the University of Massachusetts program. In his first year, Makar was resigned to a limited role. He played 17 games often as the extra forward or on the fourth line. He scored one goal – his first on January 30th against UMass Lowell after an earlier goal came off the board.
The Minutemen won the Hockey East Championship game over UConn, but their season concluded in the NCAA Worcester Regional against Minnesota in a 4-3 OT loss. Ben Meyers scored the overtime winner for Minnesota to advance. Looking ahead, it was a year with plenty to build upon.
That summer, the Colorado Avalanche hosted a development camp – his first ever. Running July 12th-15th, the summer month allowed the college players to participate before returning to their respective campuses.
Makar became friends with his roommate, former Colorado Eagles forward Ben Tardif. Tardif was traded to the Hartford Wolf Pack this past December in exchange for defenseman Luke Martin.
“I hate to say it, but I made pretty good friends with the Boston College guy,” Makar added of junior forward Colby Ambrosio – a 2020 fourth-round pick. “He’s quite the guy. He has a lot of personality too. We still chit-chat. We talk a lot, snapchat each other, things like that. I made a good friend.”
Makar participated in several days packed with physical testing, on-ice drills, workshops for off-ice personal skills, and a team-building activity – it all culminated in a final four-on-four scrimmage.
In the scrimmage, Makar played with the group including Ben Meyers and Sean Behrens. Team White did not meet a winning fate, but Makar had a nice move in the shootout at the end – patient stickhandling and a backhand over the goalie’s glove.
“It was a really fun atmosphere,” Makar said. “Everyone there, including me, learned a lot. We learned how helpful the staff there is in Colorado, and how they prepare their players to play. We learned a lot on and off the ice. It was a really fun experience.”
Importantly, he left equipped with useful knowledge to carry into his sophomore season.
“I brought up some points (to work on after development camp). We’ve been meeting quite a bit. Me and (UMass head coach) Greg Carvel – together this year – (have) brought up some points, things that I learned at development camp and where I need to bring up strengths,” he explained. “We did a lot of testing at development camp out there with the Avs, so I’ve been in touch with my strength coach too.”
“I worked a lot on board battles and working down low in the zone because my first year in college, I realized that it’s definitely an older guy’s game,” he added. “For a big-size like me, I needed to mature my body. I tried to do a lot on the ice: protecting the puck and stuff like that, which I still continue to work on with Carvel on the ice.”
Now a development camp and a freshman year wiser, Makar was comfortable embracing the year in front of him.
“Learning from everyone on my team last year, all the older guys and seeing how they went through the same thing, and then knowing what to expect this year (has helped to bring me success this season). I know the systems.”
The improvement was obvious. Through 23 games, Makar has ascended to the second-line wing alongside linemates Lucas Mercuri and Ryan Lautenbach. He’s earned seven goals and two assists.
Cale Makar has noted the area of growth in his brother’s game too. “His confidence,” he said, “holding the puck, his puck decisions whether it’s passing or driving to the net. Definitely his confidence with and around the puck.”
The way Mercuri and Lautenbach like to play has had a positive impact on Makar as well. The three complement one another.
“They’ve definitely helped with the steps I’ve taken – a key role in that,” he said.
“They’re both just so gritty,” he added. “We all have this little switch in our heads that when there’s a puck, we all want to go get it. They’re so good at finding seams where we find each other on the ice, and we know each other’s roles.”
“They always work so well to get the puck out of the corner and vice versa. We’re always just trying to find each other – we communicate a lot obviously on and off the ice. Every time we come back to the bench, we’re always telling each other what we could have done better, finding something where we could get the opposition kind of on their heels. We’re always talking to each other, which is really nice to have.”
Makar has long been aware of his physicality as a possible asset. He’s looked to other players who know how to weaponize it since he was young.
“I try to play like a power forward,” he said. “Obviously, I watch a lot of Avalanche games. I kind of strive to be like Valeri Nichushkin: (he’s) a bigger size, a little bit of speed. I like to watch him.”
“Growing up, I always liked Jarome Iginla on the Calgary Flames. He was always a grinding power forward that could score. He would fight, he’d do everything. I try to model my game after bigger players: guys that are power forwards and take it a little bit wide like Roope Hintz.”
His current line is more than just a compatible match on ice, they’re also all roommates. The frequent line of communication they share extends to all areas.
“It totally helps because I think we can be so open with each other,” he explained. “ We’re basically all brothers now because we live in an on-campus apartment here at UMass, so we’re with each other every single day. I don’t even have a car, so I get rides with them every day.”
“I’m kind of bumming rides, but that’s okay,” he laughed. “We can just say whatever we want to each other: good stuff, bad stuff. We’ll always take it in a good way. No feelings are ever hurt. We’re always gonna be brothers at the end of the day. I think we all realize that. We’re all learning together, and we’re going through this together. It’s pretty easy to communicate.”
Mercuri is a natural center and has earned the middle spot on their line. Makar has adjusted to playing left wing. He welcomes the opportunity.
“It’s just a whole new perspective,” he said. “The last three years of my junior career, I played center, which I really liked. I enjoyed that a lot.”
“Moving to wing, it’s definitely opened up a different perspective. Seeing how to support as a center, I feel like I could still play center, but I’m enjoying my time on wing. It works with our line, so it’s been a good adjustment. I’ve learned a lot.”
Under the guidance of head coach Greg Carvel, both Taylor and Cale Makar have benefitted from his coaching.
“He is so open to letting you figure out how to do things,” Taylor said. “ Once you need that help, he’ll come in and help you. He lets us play and figure out stuff on our own, but once he needs to get in, he will. Through the meetings I’ve had, if you just go up to him and talk – I’ve been doing video with him – he lets you know how to do the systems and guides you in how to play UMass hockey.”
“He’s a very detail-oriented guy,” Cale corroborated. “Always makes sure that you’re very prepared for games. It kind of takes that mental aspect out of it when you’re as prepared as you can be systems-wise, then you can stick to your own individual game.”
Undeniably, the biggest support system of all can be found in family. The Makar family spent Christmas together at Cale’s home this December. Taylor was gifted a guitar from his parents. He couldn’t bring it on the plane, so at Cale’s house it remains.
“I didn’t even know that that was one of his things he wanted to learn. It’s just stuck at my house. Now I’m learning,” Cale said.
Cale will FaceTime Taylor to show him the latest song he’s learning on his guitar.
“I am trying to learn Sister Golden Hair right now. It’s not going great. Guitar is way too hard. It’s insane,” he said.
On the recent Avs Dad and Mentor trip this past January, we were treated to a glimpse of Gary Makar’s Popeye impression.
“He has so many other impressions,” Taylor said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen that one, but my dad is a clown. He does so many impressions. He’ll always try and get a laugh with anyone which makes him an awesome dad to have. Whatever situation you’re in, he’ll always make you laugh. He’s used to being that clown guy.”
“Me and my brother are sometimes embarrassed, but at the end of the day, we’re pretty grateful for how funny he is.”
Taylor was on stage when Cale received the Conn Smythe trophy this summer. He was around for the Stanley Cup celebrations, a front row to another of his brother’s huge accomplishments.
“We’re really close,” Cale said. “We lean on each other a lot, and it’s awesome to be able to spend memories like that with my brother and just have fun. Hopefully he’s here one day, but obviously, he’s got a long way to go. He knows that. There’s no rush for it.”
The pair has been quick to issue praise for the other. It’s clear they’re very close. Make no mistake, no matter how much public acclaim Cale receives, they both allow plenty of space for each to achieve their personal best with as much or as little input as necessary.
“I always ask him for tips. We FaceTime pretty much every two days. We hang out, talk, we’re best friends,” Taylor described. “We’re very tight. He’ll watch all my games to let me know if he sees something. He’s learned so much being around the NHL. Him giving me tips helps a lot. He’s pretty open to that, but he also just lets me play my game. He enjoys just letting me learn myself.”
“I’d like to (make suggestions) but at the same time, I just want him to be his own person and go through that process himself,” Cale added. “I don’t feel like he needs somebody telling him what to do every step of the way. You want to enjoy it as an individual, but at the same time, I feel like we lean on each other for advice for sure.”
“There’s no rush for it.”
Even when Taylor Makar was drafted, patience was required to envision his future plan. After all, Makar is a sophomore who recently declared his major. Sports Management. He just received the email alerting him that he’d been accepted into the Business School of Management.
With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Minutemen have had a difficult year. They’re 10-13-3 and ninth in the Hockey East’s standings. Though Makar has achieved individual growth, the hope is for more teamwide success moving forward.
Not so different from the injury woes the Avalanche have faced, UMass has had to adapt to key absences in the lineup.
“Once we were really in the zone there (UMass had a five-game win streak in October), we lost a couple guys. It was up to us,” Makar explained. “We had to create our own momentum. At the end of the day, we control our own destiny.”
“Our team is taking steps in that way.”
Makar recalled the weekend sweep of reigning national champions early in the season against the University of Denver.
“We need to look back on that right now and think of what we did at that time which made us successful,” he said. “Going into that weekend, our team had a mentality, ‘They just won the championship. We need to rip it out of their hands.’”
“I’m sure we had a little bit of stage fright going into that at the start. Once we were on the ice, we put it all together and ended up getting two huge wins for our team. It helped the start of our season.”
UMass recently got back in the win column with their 3-2 victory over Providence. Makar’s line has started as the top line in the last two games. He has ample runway left in his collegiate career to realize his development fully before we consider his next steps.
He was honest about eyeing pro-ambitions in the end, and admitted a mantra he’s kept close to his heart throughout his career, “Never be satisfied. No matter where you are, what you’re doing, just never be satisfied. Always ask yourself, ‘What are you doing, and why are you doing it?’ Have a purpose with everything.”
The purpose is entirely his and his alone. He will have the support of many to get there.