DENVER — It’s the eve of his first season opener with the Avalanche, in the NHL, anywhere, as a pro hockey player. And Cale Makar stands at his locker dishing out ... book recommendations?
Try this one first, he says: “Mindset,” by Dr. Carol S. Dweck. It’s a psychology book published in 2007, when Makar was — let’s do the math — 9 years old. All 320 pages spoke to him, in particular the author’s work on growth vs. fixed mindsets and how it’s your choice to control your emotions.
“Kind of something I try to live by every day,” says Makar, a prodigal 20-year-old defenseman for the Avalanche. “The biggest thing for me is I try to let things go, not let them agitate me.”
Take a jaunt into the beautiful mind of Cale Makar, the next big thing in Colorado sports. It’s a mind that’s wired for winning, and from what I saw during the preseason practices leading into Thursday’s opener against the Calgary Flames, the reason the Avs' power play will be the must-see TV event of 2019-20.
If it were on TV, of course. Over at Altitude TV, optimism is low the network will have a deal done with Comcast, DISH and DirecTV to get the Avs back on those carriers by puck drop. Figure it out, billionaires. It’s only hurting fans who’ve waited 15 years for an Avalanche team like this.
“Hopefully that’ll get worked out,” general manager Joe Sakic said Wednesday at Pepsi Center.
Back to Makar. The deep-thinking defenseman is what we should be talking about. Reminds me of one of those cadet-athletes at the Air Force Academy who studies gastrointestinal aeronautics, or something smart, and makes me feel pretty good about our future as humans.
When I asked him what it feels like to skate with the All-Star line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, Makar said, “What stands out is how they think the game.”
To some of us, the maturity level of Makar is jarring. We’re over here making “Dude, where’s Makar?” jokes and the Avs have a 20-year-old brainiac paired with Sam Girard on the blue line.
“Smart player,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said.
Could be wrong about this, but the championship talk that’s circulating in hockey circles feels premature for a group that eked into the postseason by a single game the past two seasons. The wise guys in Vegas say I’m dead wrong. They pegged the Avs with the fifth-best odds to win the Stanley Cup — this season, not next, a nod toward Sakic's handiwork. Here’s a hunch the hype level got a lift when Makar debuted in Game 3 of a playoff series and didn’t even remotely look out of place.
In fact, Makar made like a dynamic two-way defenseman. Scored in the first period of his first NHL game, a goal that made Pepsi Center the loudest I’ve heard it. Hall of Fame candidate Jeremy Roenick said on Altitude Sports Radio that Makar is "the Connor McDavid of defense."
That's a mouthful. It’s not only talking heads and oddsmakers who are bullish on the Avs. Count Sakic, who’s as even-keeled these days as he was as a player, among the crowd who thinks the Stanley Cup window has slid open.
“We expect to make the playoffs and make a run at the Stanley Cup,” Sakic said.
And maybe Makar sticks the rookie Calder Trophy next to the Hobey Baker he won at UMass. Who knows? What stuck from his playoff debut back in April was how the Flames and Sharks tried to pick on the new guy, and he never slammed a stick or took a silly penalty. He made it his choice to control his own emotions, a central takeaway of his studies into sports psychology.
“I’ve been fortunate because my dad’s given me so many interesting books on the subject through the years,” Makar said. “Then I did some clinical studies with an awesome clinical psychologist in college. I read so many books with him. It all really helps.”
Can we get this guy hooked up with the Broncos? Good chance the Avs win first, anyway.
“Everyone has different perspectives. What I like to do is listen to all of those different perspectives and read so many different books to get all those different perspectives. Then I create my own (perspective),” he said.
Need a good book? Ask Cale. He's No. 8, the next big thing in Colorado sports.