After world junior tournament whirlwind, Cale Makar settles in with UMass hockey team

  • UMass defenseman Cale Makar shows off his gold medal after Canada won the world junior hockey championship. Julie Robenhymer

  • Canada’s Cale Makar, left, ties up Adam Fox of the United States during a IIHF World Junior Championship preliminary round outdoor hockey game at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y., Dec. 29. AP

  • UMass freshman defenseman Cale Makar, right, goes to the corner against Queens at the Mullins Center, Sept. 30. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 1/18/2018 9:53:50 PM

AMHERST — After Team Canada selection camp in Ontario, the world junior tournament in Buffalo, New York, a brief stop at home in Alberta and road games in Vermont and Maine, Cale Makar’s whirlwind hockey month will finally land the UMass freshman back in Amherst.

He said all his focus is on UMass as the Minutemen get set for a Friday game with Northeastern at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

“I’m excited. Every game we can climb up the standings in Hockey East,” he said. “It’s really nice to be back with the guys and get it rolling with them, for sure.”

The experience of representing Canada and winning a gold medal in the world junior championship was everything he thought it would be.

“It was what I hoped for and a little bit more. It was a great experience,” Makar said. “Credit Hockey Canada, they treat you like you’re a star athlete there. They make the whole experience fun for everybody. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it again throughout my life.”

Makar was a key part of Canada’s championship run with eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games and was a regular on the power play.

Makar went straight to selection camp after the Minutemen’s game at Union on Dec. 10 and stayed with Team Canada through the tournament, which ended with their 3-1 goal medal win over Sweden on Jan. 5.

According to TSN, Canada’s all-sports network, Makar’s play earned him an unexpected invitation to play for Canada in the Olympics next month in South Korea. But Makar chose to honor his commitment to return to UMass.

With the NHL not participating in the Olympics, the men’s hockey tournament there will be contested by a lot of players competing professionally in Europe, and a handful of collegiate and junior players. The report earned Makar some social media scorn from fans, but respected TSN analysts like Bob McKenzie and Ray Ferraro defended his decision.

Makar, who spent a few days at home in Calgary before rejoining UMass last weekend in Vermont, hasn’t commented on turning down Canada or even confirmed that there was an offer. He simply reaffirmed his faith in his developmental path.

“I feel confident in my decision to come back to UMass,” he said. “I was very excited to come back.”

Makar was unshaken by the controversy.

“I just try to stay close to goals that matter most and go with what you believe in,” he said. “That’s the main key.”

The next goal is helping the Minutemen have a strong second half. Makar has had four points (two goals, two assists) in three games since he’s returned. He thought his experience in Buffalo could pay dividends with his play for UMass.

“I just tried to be consistent every day and tried to be able to be relied upon by all the guys. When I got the opportunity, I made the most of it,” said Makar, whose ice time increased through the tournament. “I think I improved a lot of aspects of my game while I was there, whether it was transitional stuff or being on top of a guy in the D zone. I worked on different aspects. I’ll take a lot away from that tournament.”

UMass will acknowledge Makar’s accomplishment in a small ceremony prior to the Jan. 26 game against Maine at the Mullins Center. The program chose to wait until next week’s game instead of Friday, because students will be back in Amherst.

The Minutemen will play three games in five days again, this time against the top two teams in the conference. After Friday, they’ll face the Huskies, Saturday at 8 p.m. in Boston, and are at Boston College on Tuesday at 7.

BC (11-9-3, 11-4-0) is in first place in Hockey East with 22 points, while Northeastern (14-5-3, 10-3-1) is right behind the Eagles with 21 points.

UMass (10-10-1, 4-6-1) is tied for ninth with nine points, but has played at least two fewer league games than everyone ahead of them.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage

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