DENVER — The helmet didn’t fit, but it appeared everything else about the situation was comfortable for Cale Makar Monday morning at Pepsi Center.
Two days after his illustrious collegiate career ended in the national final, the 20-year-old Calgarian will suit up for the Colorado Avalanche to make one of the NHL’s most intriguing playoff debuts in recent memory.
It’s a hard enough step to make the jump from college to the pros, but being immersed into Game 3 of an intense playoff series between Colorado and Calgary takes the challenge to another level.
And to do it against the team he grew up cheering for simply thickens the plot.
“I don’t think it will be, hopefully, too big of a transition,” said the University of Massachusetts-Amhert stud, who won the Hobey Baker Award Friday after leading Hockey East in scoring as a defenceman.
“(UMass) is coming off of a championship game and NCAA hockey is pretty fast-paced itself. I don’t think the speed or anything will be too much of a challenge for me.”
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar shared that confidence by confirming the youngster GM Joe Sakic signed Sunday will start alongside Patrik Nemeth and will man the second power play unit.
“He’s going to start with Nemeth but we’ll move him around a little bit and try to put him in positions to succeed,” said Bednar, whose decision to play Makar one day after signing him was made easier by a Game 2 upper body injury to defenceman Sam Girard.
“It’s a big decision and a big time of the year. What makes the decision easier is the type of player he is and the type of person he is and the type of year he had in college. So he’s a guy that we want to get in the lineup and see if he can help us and tonight is the perfect opportunity for him to do that.”
Wearing No. 8, the former Alberta Junior Hockey League star sure didn’t seem out of place in a morning skate that ended with a horde of 30 journalists waiting at Makar’s locker.
“I watched quite a bit of them if I wasn’t doing homework at night,” he said of an Avs team that greeted him with playful cheers as he stepped onto the ice for his first skate.
“I like the way they play, they’re fast and I think I can fit in.”
Drafted fourth overall in 2017, Makar is a slick-skating, playmaking defenceman who grew up in Calgary where he was a huge fan of the team he’ll face Monday night.
“It’s weird,” smiled the five-foot-11, 187-pound graduate of Calgary’s now defunct Crowchild Blackhawks program.
“You grow up obviously loving them. I watched them in the 04’ Cup run. It’s going to be a weird feeling but my allegiance lies with the Colorado Avalanche.”
The only issue Makar experienced during his first skate was finding a comfortable helmet — the type of minor issue one might expect for a lad who officially joined the franchise a day earlier by signing a three-year entry-level contract.
Opting to sign and play Makar right away means the Avalanche will have to include him as one of their protected players in the Seattle expansion draft.
However, as one of hockey’s top prospects, the Avalanche wanted to get him on the ice as soon as possible.
He’s that talented.
“For me, coming out of college to the AHL was a big jump and then going from the AHL to the NHL was a big jump and then being a good player in the NHL is a big jump – he’s certainly taking a lot of leaps at one time,” chuckled Ian Cole, who will join Erik Johnson on the Avs top pairing.
“But from everything we’ve read and heard he’s certainly capable of doing that and we’re looking forward to seeing that.”
Looking across at the massive scrum Makar seemed at ease with, Johnson smiled at the scenario.
“I think hockey will make him comfortable – this is the hard part, waiting for the debut,” said Johnson, whose Avs evened the series 1-1 with a 3-2 overtime win Saturday in Calgary.
“It’s unique in the sense most guys don’t debut in the playoffs, especially in the middle of a series. He’s talked to the staff and everything. Keep it simple, first game. We know he’s skilled – he doesn’t need to show his stuff. Cale should add another element to our offence.”