Sports

Makar wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for Avalanche

TAMPA — As kids, like most hockey-playing Canadians, Cale and Taylor Makar had won the Stanley Cup dozens and dozens of times. Their mini-sticks battles had ended in championships, in the Cup lofted, the celebration honed. It was never anything like this.

Because this was something Hold Makar could never even have imagined. Not only did Makar win the Stanley Cup on Sunday, as the Colorado Avalanche beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the best-of-7 series at Amalie Arena, but he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by a unanimous vote.

“There’s nothing better than this,” Makar said. “You dream of this. It feels so surreal. It feels like a video game right now.”

It capped off a run that has seen Makar win the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey in 2018-19 while at the University of Massachusetts, the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 2019-20, and this season, the Norris Trophy as the League’s top defenseman, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup.

[RELATED: Stanley Cup Final coverageConn Smythe Trophy winners]

Makar, who scored 86 points (28 goals, 58 assists) in 77 games in the regular season, is the first player to win each of those awards in his career.

“You dream of it, from playing mini-sticks in the house to wrapping tin foil and juice containers and things and pretending it’s a Stanley Cup,” his father Gary Makar said. “So you’re always visualizing. Do you think it’s ever going to happen? No.

“When it does? Oh, my goodness.”

The family stood together for photos on the ice after the game, posing with arms slung around each other. Later, Cale spotted the Cup and grabbed it, brought it over for more pictures. When they were done, he turned to Gary, the father who has raised two kids drafted by the Avalanche — Taylor, a forward at UMass, was selected No. 220 in the 2021 NHL Draft — and handed him the Cup.
Gary lifted it, a grin breaking over his face, and yelled, triumphant.

This was a long way from the kid he took to the Hockey Hall of Fame at 10 or 11, a kid who would now have his name in that hallowed Hall, have his named mentioned with the all-time greats.

“We took the kids to see the Hall of Fame when they were small, all these trophies, and now his name’s going to be on it,” Gary said. “It’s unbelievable.”

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, compiling 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 20 games to lead the Avalanche. The only three defensemen to score more are Paul Coffey of the Edmonton Oilers (37 points in 1984-85), Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (34 points in 1993-94) and Al MacInnis of the Calgary Flames (31 in 1988- 89).

Makar is the third defenseman to win the Conn Smythe at age 23 or younger, after 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 this guy is never going to surprise me anymore. But he continued to do that through the playoffs for me. Just such a competitive, phenomenal teammate. Driven guy, and an even better person, just a humble, hard-working guy that takes nothing for granted.

“He’s an unbelievable player, the talent and his ability is like nothing I’ve ever seen or maybe never will see again from a defenseman.”

Makar will leave this season with a significant amount of hardware, with trophies that will need space on his shelves.

But that’s not all.

Defenseman Devon Toews sits near Makar on team flights and has watched all season as Makar has strained to watch Netflix shows on his tiny phone screen.

“I told him if he was going to win the Norris, I would get him an iPad and look at the season he had on that,” Toews said. “So I’m going to have to step up my game.”

For Makar’s game, it’s hard to know where there is left to go. The defenseman has done what few others have in full careers in just three seasons in the NHL. In winning the Conn Smythe on Sunday — five days after he claimed 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 in 2002.

Orr was 22 and 24 when he completed the feat; Lidstrom was 32.

Makar is still just 23.

He has his whole career in front of him, with a ceiling that doesn’t appear to exist.

“He’s so special,” forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “Just an amazing person. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the world.

“Such an amazing leader, person and what can I say about him? He’s the best.”

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