These are heady days for Cale Makar. The former UMass defenseman continues to pile up accolades three years after he won the Hobey Baker Award while leading the Minutemen to the NCAA championship game.
Two seasons after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, Makar was awarded the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman for the 2021-22 season. He followed that up by tallying eight goals and 21 assists in 20 playoff games for the Colorado Avalanche to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs, becoming just the third player to win both trophies in the same season, joining Bobby Orr and Nicklas Lidstrom, as Colorado captured the Stanley Cup.
None of this comes as a surprise to UMass coach Greg Carvel.
“I thought he deserved it,’’ said Carvel. “I don’t think there’s anyone on the ice more dominant than him, especially from the blue line, how much offense he created.
“Defensively he had some breakdowns but he played 27 minutes a game. I think it’s going to happen from time to time. But I just thought he deserved it from what I watched. He’s on quite a roll. He’s the man right now, it’s great. ’’
Makar was selected by the Avalanche with the fourth pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, the summer before his freshman year. When he arrived in Amherst, Carvel sat down with the prospect to lay out a plan. While he had no illusions that Makar would stay for four years, he also did not think a one-and-done would benefit him, either.
He told Makar he thought it needed to be a two-year process, and Makar agreed. The two had the same conversation after his freshman year, with Carvel reiterating his belief that Makar needed another year. Once again, Makar agreed, informing the Avalanche that he was returning to UMass.
It would not take long for Carvel to know that would be the final season, as Makar and the Minutemen rolled to the Hockey East regular-season title and finished with 31 wins.
“What a great decision it was for him, to come back and win the Hobey Baker,’’ said Carvel. “He’s a perfect example of staying a little longer and dominating where you’re at before you move on to the next step. Not a lot of kids do that but he did and it is a great example of how you should follow the process. Trust your gut.’’
Knowing their relationship as player and coach was coming to an end, Carvel had a request for his prized pupil ahead of the team’s trip to Buffalo for the Frozen Four: Would he sign a photo for Carvel’s son? Makar agreed, but wanted to wait a day. Carvel, a bit perplexed, was fine with that but asked why.
It turned out Makar wanted to think about what he was going to say. The next day he returned, writing a thoughtful message on the print, the details of which Carvel prefers to keep private. He refers to it as the prized possession of the household.
It was apparent in Buffalo how much the two appreciated the relationship, with both offering reflections throughout media availabilities that weekend. After UMass lost the championship game on a Saturday night, Makar, who would sign with the Avalanche on Sunday and make his pro debut on Monday, ditched his shoulder pads but made sure to put his UMass jersey back on for his press conference.
“I just want to keep it on as long as I can,’’ Makar said that night. “It’s a jersey that I’m very proud to wear. Our team has brought so much respect to this program. Honestly, it’s going to be a couple of years that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.’’
Fast forward three years, and viewers tuning in to watch Colorado’s Stanley Cup run were quickly made aware of the impact of Makar’s time in Amherst.
“Our program continues to benefit from Cale Makar,’’ said Carvel, who has texted back and forth with Makar since Colorado’s victory. “Three years later, they seem to always mention that he’s a UMass product, and how he stayed that extra year.
“I think he’s very proud of his time at UMass and what he helped create.’’
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.