Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Despite strong start, Cale Makar knows he has more to offer

Sophomore defenseman already has 13 points in seven games

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Caroline O'Connor / UMass Athletics

Caroline O'Connor / UMass Athletics

Caroline O'Connor / UMass Athletics

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

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Through seven games, Cale Makar has 13 points. He’s tied for second-most in the country with Max Johnson and Brandon Kruse of Bowling Green and Parker Tuomie of Minnesota State, behind Johnny Walker’s 17 points for Arizona State, and he’s the top-scoring defenseman in the nation.

Over the weekend at New Hampshire, he scored a goal and added an assist to further his point streak to five-straight games, building on a sophomore season that has already seen him earn Hockey East Player of the Month honors in October.

The assistant captain has led the Massachusetts hockey team to its most successful start in years, but rather than bask in the glory, Makar is doing just the opposite ahead of No. 9 UMass’ (6-1-0, 3-0-0 Hockey East Association) biggest series of the season with No. 4 Providence.

“I think relatively average,” Makar said when describing his game through the first month. “I think for myself, I’m pretty hard on myself, but I think at the end of the day it just comes from a lot of the guys putting the puck into the net when I give it to them this year. I give all of the credit to my teammates right now, just being able to produce and stay red-hot so hopefully we can continue that.”

Last year, Makar didn’t hit double-digits in points until January and scored just five goals. He’s slotted four goals already this season with two of them coming as a result of magnificent rushes into the offensive zone from No. 16 himself.

“I think he thought points would come easier than they did last year early on,” coach Greg Carvel said about Makar’s production compared to his freshman season. “I think at the end of last year you saw his play rising to the point where he was being effective offensively every night and that just carried over into this year. He’s even quicker, stronger, he’s worked on his shot, he’s finishing better so just what he’s doing now is just a continued path of where he was at the end of last year.

“I’d be scared if I was the coach on the other bench. When he gets the puck, he’s hard to defend,” Carvel said.

Makar’s superb skating ability has been on full display through these first handful of games. Whether it’s carrying the puck up ice or just finding the soft spots in the attacking zone, his skating has opened up ice for himself, but also for his teammates too.

“He does that but what I’m seeing in his game now and what I’ve asked of our players is that, I think last year he’d get the puck and would look at the net and try to score,” Carvel said. “I think now, he doesn’t see that, he’s looking for his teammates and you saw that a little bit at UNH. He’s playing the game the right way. He’s trying to make the best decisions with the puck offensively, whether it’s him shooting or him looking for a play off the backside. He’s doing that and it helps us.”

“I think at the end of the day I’m just getting more comfortable playing at this level and that comes with more experience, obviously,” Makar added. “I think coming into this second year, I was expecting to do a lot better for myself and just be consistent every night.”

Much of the success UMass will have this season will depend upon just how high of a level Makar can bring his game. It’s already reached a pretty impressive mark to this point, but Makar isn’t satisfied.

“It’s just coming to the rink every day, being able to work and not getting complacent,” said Makar of the key to staying consistent. “I know I touched on that before but I think those are two big things for a team. When we start getting complacent, that’s when things start to go awry.”

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

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