Cale Makar opens up about decision to return to UMass hockey for sophomore season

No. 4 overall pick rights owned by Colorado Avalanche

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

On March 31, Massachusetts hockey freshman Cale Makar announced he would return to UMass for his sophomore season on a podcast with Brooks Bandits — Makar’s junior hockey club — communications manager Tyler King.

Six days later, Makar, the New England co-rookie of the year as voted by the New England Hockey Writer’s Association, was back in Amherst lifting weights with his teammates in the Mullins Center Practice Rink.

The Colorado Avalanche own Makar’s rights after selecting the Calgary, Alberta native No. 4 overall in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, and there was speculation as to whether they would sign the slick puck-mover after the Minutemen’s season ended on March 10 in their 7-2 loss to Northeastern.

A few weeks had passed with no word from either side until Makar confirmed he’d return last Saturday, despite the belief from the Avalanche camp that thought No. 16 was ready to make the jump to the pros this season.

“(Colorado) was very respectful of what my decision was,” Makar said. “They pretty much stated that they thought I was ready at the time and I kind of disagree with that, but it was a really good talk and they were nothing but respectful. I credit a lot to them, I think it’s going to be a great year in terms of communication with them next year.”

Specifically, Makar felt another season in Div. I college hockey would help him shore up some deficiencies from UMass’ blueline in.

“I think a lot of my habits, in terms of D-zone play, whether it’s just gap or tightening up in the defensive zone, have gotten a lot better over this first year,” Makar said. “But I can definitely start noticing me thinking about it on the ice and when I’m in a bad situation, bad gap and stuff. I think that’s a learning process and something that I’m looking to do consistently next year instead of periodically.”

In October when asked about his initial framework for his college career, Makar felt “ideally, it’ll be two years at UMass,” and that mindset never really changed throughout the course of the season.

“At the end of the day I usually get my mind pretty set at the beginning and it’s pretty tough to change it and in this scenario, I think I made the right call for me,” he said.

Makar registered 21 points (five goals and 16 assists) in his freshman season with the Minutemen that earned the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder Hockey East All-Rookie Team and Third Team All-Star honors.

“I think (there were) a lot of ups and downs,” Makar said assessing his first year. “As a person I think I could’ve done a lot more things, in terms of some of my goals but that’ll be things to improve on, like I said, for next year. Overall I think it was a good first year, and even though I was inconsistent at times, I think I still showed what I can do and had glimpses of that at times.

“I’m really excited for the year to come and I honestly can’t wait for October. It seems pretty weird to say now because usually I go very late in the hockey season, but I honestly can’t wait.”

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.