Avalanche sign UMass’ Makar for playoff series

The Colorado Avalanche are hoping defenseman Cale Makar can do for them what he did for UMass this season.

The Avs signed the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner Sunday, and he will join the team immediately for its playoff series against the Calgary Flames.

Colorado tied the series 1-1 Saturday night, while Makar, who is from Calgary, Alberta, and the Minutemen were losing to Minnesota Duluth 3-0 in the NCAA title game. Game 3 of Avs-Flames is set for Monday in Denver.

“I want to make sure he’s in, rested, prepared and focused on what we’re doing here now. Then we’ll make a decision on when we get him in the lineup,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Sunday after the team returned from Calgary. “It’s definitely a big step up from the college game, especially when you’re jumping in midseries, in a heated playoff round, against such a good opponent like Calgary. It’s my job to make sure I’m putting him in a position to succeed.”

Makar, 20, who completed his sophomore season, was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, the highest selection in UMass history.

“I’m very excited to start the next chapter of my hockey career,” Makar said in a statement. “I can’t wait to see what it has in store.”

Makar made plenty of history this season. He led UMass to its first No. 1 ranking, first Frozen Four and was the first defenseman to lead Hockey East in scoring, with 49 points in 40 games.

“He is a game-changing type of player who made a lasting impact on the UMass hockey program,” Avs general manager Joe Sakic said in a statement. “We are excited to have him join our team.”

And possibly insert him into the lineup. Makar’s soon-to-be-next assignment could be this: Stop Johnny Gaudreau and the rest of the high-flying Flames.

“He’s an elite talent and a real special player,” Bednar said. “So I have hopes he can come in and help us in this series. If I said there wasn’t any concern, I’d probably be lying. It will be another level that he’s never played at before. But he does have a lot of international experience. He’s played big games, played a major role for their team going all the way to the championship game.”

After Saturday’s contest, Makar couldn’t bring himself to take off his UMass sweater just yet and wore it to the interview podium.

“I’m so very honored and humbled to put this jersey on every single game,” Makar said. “Our practice jerseys as well. I’m so fortunate that I chose this school, under such a great staff.

“It’s just a sense of pride now. As I touched on, we brought so much respect to this crest. This program is no longer an embarrassment. Everybody can look at us as a program that’s going to be successful for years.”

Makar joins an Avalanche blue line that includes Tyson Barrie, Ian Cole, Samuel Girard, Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadorov. Girard was banged up in the overtime victory Saturday and will undergo further evaluation before a decision is made on his status.

Asked what Makar could bring to the lineup, Bednar said: “Same thing he did for his team in college. He’s a dynamic player, obviously an elite skater, physically involved in every game I’ve watched. He’s dynamic in the way he can help you produce offense. He’s got a great shot, great blue-line movement, active in the offensive zone. Some of the things that made us a good team yesterday in Calgary, he can just add to that.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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