Cale Makar is focused on Wednesday’s eighth and final regular-season game against the Minnesota Wild, but Thursday the Avalanche second-year defenseman will be all about what’s happening with the Massachusetts Minutemen at the NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
Makar, 22, is just two years removed from leading UMass to its first NCAA Frozen Four, where the Minutemen defeated Denver in an overtime national semifinal before losing to Minnesota-Duluth in the championship game in Buffalo, N.Y.
UMass faces Duluth in Thursday’s second semifinal in Pittsburgh, and Makar — a key contributor to UMass’ rise — will tune in after the Avs arrive in Anaheim on an otherwise off-day.
“I’ve tried to watch basically almost every single one of their games through playoffs and stuff and I’m excited to see what they can do in the Frozen Four,” Makar said after Wednesday’s morning skate at the Xcel Energy Center. “Luckily, their first game falls on an off-day for us.”
The state of Massachusetts has 10 Division I hockey programs and superstar NHL-bound junior players like Makar usually go to Boston College, Boston University or Harvard. But Makar chose UMass and second-year coach Greg Carvel, despite the Minutemen going 5-29-2 in Carvel’s first year of 2016-17.
Makar, who would have been a senior at UMass if he didn’t sign with the Avs after his Hobey Baker Award-winning sophomore year, is a strong advocate of his alma mater.
“I made so many great friendships over there and I honestly keep in touch with a lot of the guys still on the team,” he said. “It’s awesome to see that they’re still finding ways to succeed but I think it’s important for guys that aren’t in the program anymore to still remain in and around it even though you’re alumni.”
Makar has UMass beating the Bulldogs on Thursday, despite the Minutemen scheduled to play without four players lost to COVID protocol. The losses include top goalie Filip Lindberg and leading goal-scorer Carson Gicewicz, who had a hat trick in the regional championship.
“I felt gutted for those guys when I read the press release on it,” Makar said. “Lindberg, he’s a good friend and I feel absolutely horrible for him. And then the one senior that’s out too, Gicewicz, I never met him but he was a transfer and has been playing incredible for them.
“Like I said, I felt absolutely gutted for those guys but if there’s a program to be able to pull through, that has enough depth to — especially with their backup goalie Matt Murray and stuff — it will be UMass, for sure.”
Avs forward Tyson Jost is probably also rooting for UMass because Duluth eliminated North Dakota in a five-overtime thriller in a regional championship game. Jost played one year at North Dakota in 2016-17 before signing with the Avs.
“It’s like a lifetime bond that you have with the guys that you played there with, the coaching staff,” Jost said Wednesday. “One of my best friends who played on the team this year, Gabe Bass — they had a heartbreaker loss against Duluth. You definitely keep tabs with them and keep in contact with the guys you played with. It’s just a brotherhood that you have that carries out through your lifetime.”
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