Is Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar the hockey player Stephen Curry?

DENVER. Now that name is coming up on the air along with Wayne Gretzky’s Cale Makar name. On the TNT hockey program, Gretzky, arguably the best ever to play the game, compared Makar to Bobby Orr, a superb defenseman who, according to some, was even better than Gretzky.

Patrick Roy said that Makar could become best defender in history, suggesting that he can surpass Orr. Others joined in, praising the brilliant skating, stick handling and play of Makar, the Alberta, Canada prodigy who helped lead the Colorado Avalanche to a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. .

Hall of Famer Phil Esposito played alongside Orr for nine seasons in Boston and finds it hard to believe anyone could be as good as Orr, the great No. 1. 4 who single-handedly turned defense into something never seen before weapon of attack, rushing across the ice past the defenders like helpless statues.

“Makar is really, really good,” said Esposito, who now hosts radio for the Lightning games. “But Bobby was the greatest. I will say this: The baby is close. He dictates the game, just like Bobby did.”

None of this is to say that Makar is a better player compared to his era than Orr, or that he will have a better career than Orr, who won eight Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman and two Stanley Cups in what was 10 healthy years.

But Makar excels at skating and stickman maneuvers that Orr and his colleagues didn’t even think about in the 1970s or many years later.

Orr revolutionized his stance and made spin-frame moves on the blue line that left the jaws dropped. But he never danced or carved freezing rain in the shape of a crescent on a blue line. And he didn’t go down the back line with the puck threateningly on the stick like Makar does. No one did these maneuvers when Orr played, partly because they lacked modern skates and training methods. As Esposito noted, in Orr’s day, players spent their summers working, while today players skate all year round.

Orr didn’t spread his hips, bring his heels together, or confuse defenders as some skaters, most notably Sidney Crosby, can do today. But few do it with such ease and pleasure as Makar.

“He’s special because he’s the fastest,” said Mikhail Sergachev, the astute Lightning defenseman. “He knows how much time and space he has and uses it to his advantage. You think you have it, but you don’t. He is simply using you as bait and as a screen. He is very, very dangerous.”

Sergachev played five seasons and won two Stanley Cups with the Lightning. He studies the game and especially his position. When he sees that Makar has the puck at the blue line, he and his teammates are ready for just about anything.

With a fearsome lateral movement never seen before, Makar can fake left then right, leaving the defender stumbling on the ice as he rolls back along the blue line, trying to pass or punch either foot. This technique is more reminiscent of a basketball point guard with agile dribbling than hockey players of the past. Looking at Makar is like looking at Stephen Curry hockey, and this leads to success.

In the playoffs this season, Makar has 5 goals and 17 assists, and his 22 points lead the Avalanche in what could be the team’s first championship since 2001. On the way stands “Lightning”, looking for its third consecutive Stanley Cupwith some amazing defenders of their own.

“They are trying to build a dynasty,” Makar said Tuesday. “We’re trying to create a legacy.”

Makar’s legacy is already being actively built. He is a Norris Trophy finalist along with the Lightning’s Victor Hedman and the Nashville Predators’ Roman Josey, whom the Avalanche defeated in four games in the first round. (Makar scored 3 goals and had 7 assists in that series.) Makar is only 23 years old and Esposito thinks he will win at least three or four Norris Trophies.

In the regular season, he has 28 goals and 86 points, plus or minus a plus-48 rating, trailing only a plus-52 among NHL defensemen behind teammate Devon Thewse’s plus-52 (whom Makar modestly calls the “driver” of the Avalanche defense) .

But Makar’s game is noticeable outside of statistics. He is evolving into one of the most interesting players to watch, a visionary on the ice, with skating skills that rival the best skaters and stick-handling abilities that strikers envy. He entices defenders to move forward to attack him and then bounces to the side, always with the puck loaded on his stick.

“He never looks at the puck when he’s holding it,” Sergachev said. “That’s the main thing about him when you look at him on the blue line. He always works with the puck and looks at the net or other players. That’s how he always finds good plays.”

Makar said he always loved skating and doing the drills required for perfect blade skating to generate speed and deception. But as gifted as he was, Makar grew up in Alberta and was a fan of the Calgary Flames. He took an unusual path to the NHL, choosing to attend the University of Massachusetts after being drafted fourth overall by the Avalanche. 2017.

Greg Cronin, coach of the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate Colorado Eagles, worked as an assistant coach with the Islanders in 2017 and interviewed Makar before the draft. He wondered why Makar would not go into major junior hockey, like many aspiring stars. Makar insisted that he committed to playing for two years at the University of Massachusetts before turning professional.

“Of all the interviews I did in those years, this one stood out,” Cronin said. “The honesty and conviction in his response was amazing, and he brought it to life.”

Cronin later joined the Avalanche organization and although he never coached Makar, he was on the ice with him at training camp and said that Makar is arguably the best skater he has ever seen.

“I call it stick hockey,” Cronin said. “It’s like someone is controlling it from above, moving it up, back, and then, bang, sideways. He will take a half step forward to get you to bite and then fire his slingshot to the side. The defender is finished.

UMass has now turned into a title contender by winning the Frozen Four in 2021, but it hasn’t been considered in the upper echelons of college hockey avenues like Minnesota, Wisconsin or Boston University. Makar did it.

In a landmark four days in April 2019, Makar won the Hobie Baker Award for best college player, played (and lost) a national title game, signed with the Avalanche, and then scored on his NHL debut against the Calgary “, No. less.

“He helps us recruit players every night he plays,” said Greg Carvel, Minutemen coach. “It is his legacy that maybe the best player in the world played in this program. The kids want to play just like Cale.”

Carvel said that Makar arrived in Amherst with a unique ability to skate already, but noted that Makar was smart enough to realize he needed more time in college to develop strength and endurance on the ice before he hit the NHL. When he first arrived, Makar showed remarkable skill. , but he was limited in how often he could use it.

“I just remember walking to the end of the bench and saying, ‘Get Cale out some more,’” Carvel recalls. “He just couldn’t do it. It was a sign that he wasn’t ready.”

However, Joe Sakic, Avalanche’s general manager and former star player on the team, called Carvel after Makar’s first year at the University of Massachusetts and told the coach that the Avalanche intended to immediately offer Makar a contract to join the team. But Makar stayedknowing he needs to get stronger.

The worst thing for the rest of the NHL is that Makar continues to progress. Carvel said that some of the most spectacular moves he now makes at the blue line were not evident in college, and he said that Makar’s skating and defensive play, as well as his uncanny shooting ability, were developed in the NHL, and That’s not all.

“I have always worked in hockey; I coached in the NHL,” Carvel said. “There are very few people I would pay money to watch them play hockey. Maybe five people. He is obviously one of them. He’s pure fun.”

Orr was like that too. Fans couldn’t take their eyes off him as he picked up the puck behind his net, speared defensemen while gaining speed on the ice, or spun 360 degrees at the blue line and attacked terrified goaltenders.

Bobby was BobbyEsposito said. “Let’s let this guy make his career. But it’s definitely interesting to watch.”