The hype train surrounding Colorado Avalanche rookie blueliner Cale Makar was already chugging along before he made his NHL debut Monday, but the entire thing is on its way to flying off the tracks after his showing in Game 3.
With the UMass standout and The Hockey News’ top-ranked Future Watch prospect inking a three-year, entry-level deal with the Avalanche Sunday, excitement began to build about the Hobey Baker Award-winning blueliner’s first foray into the big-league lineup Monday. And when he hit the ice for the third game of Colorado’s first-round series against the Calgary Flames, Makar didn’t disappoint.
Makar’s welcome-to-the-NHL moment came late in the first period when he showcased a few of the abilities that make him such a tantalizing prospect. With the Avalanche already ahead 2-0 on the strength of two Nathan MacKinnon goals with four minutes remaining in the opening frame, Colorado began breaking out of the defensive zone with speed when Makar, as if he was shot out of a cannon, turned a 2-on-2 break into a partial 3-on-2 in a hurry. Quickly checking behind himself to ensure there was space, Makar received a drop-pass on the rush and then put on display the offensive acumen that led to a 16-goal, 49-point campaign in the NCAA as he fended off a stick check and slipped a shot through Flames netminder Mike Smith’s five-hole.
Makar’s mark was important for a few reasons. First and foremost, it would stand as the game-winning goal in a 6-2 victory that gives Colorado a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven against Calgary. That puts the underdog Avalanche, who needed a late run to make the post-season in the first place, two games away from earning a trip to the second round. But the tally also signified Makar’s first NHL goal, one he had to wait all of 16 minutes into his debut to register. Best of all, though, is what Makar’s goal meant historically: it was the first time in NHL history that a defenseman who was playing in his first career game and was doing in the midst of the playoffs had lit the lamp.
He isn’t the first player of any position to manage to score a post-season goal while making his big-league debut, however. Before Makar’s scored in his first NHL game, six others had done the same in the post-season.
Eddie Emberg, Montreal Canadiens – 1945
Emberg’s story is an odd one. A productive player with the Quebec Senior League’s Quebec Aces, he managed to sneak into the Canadiens lineup in Game 5 of the first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Emberg, 23 at the time, scored in Montreal’s 10-3 rout of Toronto, played again in the Canadiens’ Game 6 season-ending loss and then never saw NHL ice again. He continued to play in the minor circuit until 1951-52, ending his career with the QMHL’s Ottawa Senators.
Les Costello, Toronto Maple Leafs – 1948
Some players wait a lifetime to get their name etched on the Stanley Cup. It took a then-19-year-old Costello five games. Making his debut in Game 5 of the opening round series against the Boston Bruins, Costello scored the second of three Maple Leafs goals in a 3-2 series-clinching victory and went on to record another goal and three points in the Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings. Costello only played 16 more games in the NHL, all with the Maple Leafs, and spent the remainder of his brief career in the AHL.
Doug Volmar, Detroit Red Wings – 1970
The Red Wings were looking for a spark in Game 3 of their first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks when Volmar, 25, was called into action. A standout in the CHL, Volmar was all over the place in Game 3, scoring once on five shots, but it didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. Detroit dropped the game and were swept out of the post-season by Chicago. Volmar’s career spanned another 62 NHL games with the Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings, and he played 10 games in the WHA.
Rod Brind’Amour, St. Louis Blues – 1989
‘The Bod’ knows a thing or two about making an impact in his debut. His first season as a coach? Snapped the Carolina Hurricanes’ playoff drought. His first game in the NHL? Scored a goal in the playoffs. Brind’Amour, 18, was fresh out of Michigan State when he joined the Blues for the final game of their first-round tilt with the North Stars, and he helped seal the deal with a goal in St. Louis’ 6-1 series-clinching thrashing of Minnesota in Game 5. Brind’Amour scored in his second career game, too, and went on to score 452 goals and 1,184 points throughout an excellent NHL career.
Adam Mair, Toronto Maple Leafs – 1999
A utility player through-and-through, Mair, 19, didn’t have much time to make an impact in his first career game, but he made the most of the 4:43 he skated for the Maple Leafs in Game 3 of the first-round series with the Penguins. Mere seconds after Pittsburgh had tied the game in the second period, Mair scored to put Toronto ahead 3-2, a lead that was coughed up in the third as the Penguins skated to a 4-3 win. Mair had a respectable career as a bottom-sixer, playing 615 games and registering 114 points in 11 NHL seasons.
Lauri Korpikoski, New York Rangers – 2008
A first-round pick, 19th overall, in 2004, Korpikoski had developed well down on the farm, and the Rangers thrust the 21-year-old into action in Game 5 of the second-round series against the Penguins. With New York down 2-0 after two, Korpikoski’s first NHL tally drew the Rangers within one, and Nigel Dawes would bring the Blueshirts level less than 90 seconds later. New York couldn’t find the go-ahead goal, though, and Pittsburgh won Game 5 – and the series – on the strength of Marian Hossa’s overtime tally. Korpikoski, who was 21 at the time of his debut, went on to have a few good seasons with the Phoenix (known later in his tenure as Arizona) Coyotes, and left the NHL for Europe following the 2016-17 season. He scored 82 goals and 201 points in 609 games in the bigs.