Makar and Fox: College hockey’s best defensemen go head to head

UMass’ Friday matchup with Harvard will feature two of the 10 Hobey Baker Finalists

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Makar and Fox: College hockey’s best defensemen go head to head

By Mollie Walker, Assistant Sports Editor

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The NCAA Tournament opening matchup between the No. 1 seeded Massachusetts hockey team and Harvard this upcoming Friday is something to look forward to in and of itself.

But seeing two of the tournament’s best defensemen go head to head is arguably the main event.

Hobey Baker Top 10 Finalists Cale Makar and Adam Fox will square off on the same ice in a showdown between two of college hockey’s most talked-about players. Both of these guys have been the face of their respective teams, their countries in World Juniors and their NHL organizations.

It’ll be a premiere matchup of both UMass’ (28-9-0, 18-6-0 Hockey East Association) and Harvard’s (19-10-3, 13-7-2 Eastern College Athletic Conference) central players, who have led their teams to this point.

When coach Greg Carvel was asked what he was anticipating from the Crimson, Fox’s name was among his first thoughts.

“Speed, skill and a high-end player in Adam Fox, who can be a game changer,” Carvel said after practice Tuesday. “We haven’t played many teams this year where their backend could match ours, but I think this a case where it’s a draw or theirs is a little better.”

Harvard’s defense is anchored by Fox, who opened the season on a 10-game point streak. He comes into Friday’s contest on a four-game multi-point streak, collecting 10 points in that span.

There’s only been seven matchups this season where the junior hasn’t appeared on the scoresheet.

The 2018-19 Ivy League Player of the Year is a driving force in the Crimson’s offense and currently sits at plus-26. The last time Fox finished a game with a minus-rating was back on Jan. 11 in a 4-2 loss to Princeton.

Fox leads Harvard with 48 points (10 goals, 38 assists), 17 points ahead of the next highest point producer on the roster. He leads the nation in points per game (1.50) and assists per game (1.19).

Makar is right behind with 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) this season, serving as a workhorse for Carvel to utilize wherever needed. The sophomore has registered points in seven of the last eight contests, recording three multi-point nights in that span.

He leads UMass in points, assists, blocks and shots on goal, confirming what Carvel has said of Makar all season: he leads by example. He is undoubtedly the most impressive player to come through UMass.

At the Hockey East banquet, the league revealed Makar had been named the Hockey East Player of the Year by unanimous selection. The honor was the first in program history, and went along with his Hockey East First-Team All-Star award as well.

The Calgary, Alberta native finished league-play tied with his D-partner, Marc Del Gaizo, for first in plus-minus (+29). He earned Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week three times, Player of the Week twice and was the Hockey East Player of the Month for October.

Both Fox and Makar boast laundry lists of awards and accomplishments but seeing is believing. Both players have made names for themselves by their ability to be the most dominant player on the ice, the ones that stand out and ground their entire team.

For Makar, he’ll have to watch out for Fox on the power play. Fox is a menace on the man-advantage, with his ability to maintain puck possession for long stretches and jumpstart offensive pushes.

Fox will have to focus on keeping up with Makar’s skating. Makar’s elite versatility on the ice has yet to be challenged and could easily be a dominant aspect to Friday’s game. The two matchup quite evenly, only with Makar standing two inches taller and a handful of pounds heavier.

“Yeah [Fox is] on the ice all the time, all the time,” Carvel said. “We’ve watched a number of their games here in the last couple of days, and he’s just really, really effective. And if you don’t neutralize him, he’s going to be a big factor in the game.”

It was recently widely reported that Fox is leaning toward returning to Harvard for his senior season and going the free agency route instead of signing with the Carolina Hurricanes, who picked up his rights from the team who drafted him, the Calgary Flames.

Most are expecting Makar to join the Colorado Avalanche any minute now, as he’s shown promising signs of being capable of competing at the NHL level. It’s also a total possibility that he could be headed to Colorado in the coming weeks if the Avalanche qualify for the playoffs.

But for right now, both Fox and Makar are about to travel to Manchester, New Hampshire for the biggest tournament in college hockey, and many of their teammates will be looking to them to help keep their season alive.

Because who wouldn’t look to the first and third round NHL draft picks, Canadian and American World Junior gold medal winners and the ECAC and Hockey East Players of the Year?

Mollie Walker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MollieeWalkerr.