TAMPA — As children, Cale and Taylor Makar, like most hockey-playing Canadians, had won the Stanley Cup dozens of times. Their ministick fights had ended in championships, lifted the cup, refined the celebration. Nothing like this has ever happened.
Because that was something Kal Makar could never have imagined. Makar not only won the Stanley Cup on Sunday when the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the best-of-7 series at the Amalie Arena, but he also scooped the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by unanimous vote.
“There’s nothing better than that,” Makar said. “You dream about it. It feels so surreal. It feels like a video game right now.”
It capped a run that saw Makar win the 2018-19 Hobey Baker Award for Best College Hockey Player while at the University of Massachusetts, the 2019-20 NHL Calder Trophy and that season’s Norris Trophy for the league’s best defenseman, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup.
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Makar, who has 86 points (28 goals, 58 assists) in 77 regular-season games, is the first player to win those honors in his career.
“You dream of playing mini-sticks around the house and wrapping up tinfoil and juice containers and things like that and pretending it’s a Stanley Cup,” said his father, Gary Makar. “So you’re always visualizing. Do you think it will ever happen? no
“When does it? Oh my goodness.”
The family stood together for photos on the ice after the game and posed with arms wrapped. Cale later spotted the trophy, grabbed it and brought it over for more pictures. When they were done, he turned to Gary, the father of two children drafted by the Avalanche — Taylor, a UMass forward who was drafted 220th in the 2021 NHL draft — and presented him with the trophy.
Gary picked it up, a grin spreading across his face, and cried out in triumph.
That was a long way from the kid he brought into the Hockey Hall of Fame when he was 10 or 11, a kid who would now have his name in that hallowed hall, his name would be mentioned by the greats.
“We took the kids to see the Hall of Fame when they were little, all these trophies, and now it’s going to have his name on it,” Gary said. “It’s incredible.”
Video: Cale Makar’s run to his first Conn Smythe Trophy win
Makar finished the playoffs with more points than all but three defensemen in NHL history, amassing 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 20 games to lead the Avalanche. The only three defensemen to score more were Edmonton Oilers’ Paul Coffey (37 points in 1984-85), New York Rangers’ Brian Leetch (34 points in 1993-94), and Calgary Flames’ Al MacInnis (31 in 1988-89).
Makar is the third defenseman to win the Conn Smythe at age 23 or younger, following Bobby Orr of the 1970 Boston Bruins and Serge Savard of the 1969 Montreal Canadiens.
“Oh man,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I would have said a few months ago that this guy would never surprise me again. But he continued to do that for me in the playoffs. Just such a competitive, phenomenal teammate. A driven guy and an even better person, just a humble, hardworking guy who takes nothing for granted.
“He’s an incredible player, his talent and skill is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a defender and may never see again.”
Makar will leave this season with a significant amount of hardware, with trophies that will take up space on his shelves.
But that’s not all.
defender Devon Toews sits near Makar on team flights and has been watching Makar strainedly watch Netflix shows on his tiny phone screen all season.
“I told him if he won the Norris I would get him an iPad and look at the season he had on it,” Toews said. “So I have to improve my game.”
It’s hard for Makar’s game to know where to go next. The defenseman has accomplished in just three seasons in the NHL what few others have achieved in a full career. By winning the Conn Smythe Sunday – five days after winning the Norris – he became the third player in NHL history to win both awards in the same season, after Orr in 1970 and 1972 and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings 2002
Orr was 22 and 24 years old when he performed the feat; Lidstrom was 32.
Makar is still only 23.
He has his whole career ahead of him, with a ceiling that doesn’t seem to exist.
“He’s so special,” he said Nathan MacKinnon said. “Just an amazing person. I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the world.
“Such an amazing leader, person and what can I say about him? He is the best.”