Former Bandit Cale Makar lighting it up at the World Juniors

Former Brooks Bandit star Cale Makar joins the rest of his Canadian teammates in the semi-finals of the World Juniors against the Czechs. His father and Brooks Bandits business manager talks about the young defenceman's unique ability to rise to every occasion.

Former Brooks Bandit defenceman making a splash with Canadian team

Calgary native and former star of the Brooks Bandits Cale Makar and his Canadian teammates take on the Czechs in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Junior Hockey championships. (Brooks Bandits)

Cale Makar doesn't see pressure, he sees opportunity — all of which may spell happy times for the Canadian world junior team.

The 19-year-old Calgary native is the second leading scoring defenceman (3 goals, 3 assists) in the World Juniors tournament in 2018, all the more impressive given that he's been receiving limited ice time through the tournament.

That may change Thursday night, when Team Canada takes on the Czechs in the semi-final, at 6 p.m. Calgary time.

No surprise to the Bandits

His success doesn't come as a surprise to hockey fans in Brooks, who watched Makar lead the Brooks Bandits to two Junior A hockey championships before he became a first round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche — and the fourth player chosen overall — in the 2017 NHL draft.

For Bandits business manager Tyler King, who watched Makar transform from an undersized affiliate player into the player who transformed the Bandits into perhaps the top Junior A franchise in the country, seeing him thrive on the world stage is no surprise at all.

"Every opportunity he's been given, he turned it into something more," said King. "Starting as a young player, he became a full-time player (on the Bandits) a lot quicker than people might have expected, then he became the best rookie in his league the year after that and then, frankly, the best player in his league the year after that. Now at World Juniors, we're seeing the exact same thing."

Calgary native Cale Makar is the second leading scoring defenceman on Team Canada in the 2018 World Junior Hockey tournament. Makar led the Brooks Bandits to a pair of championships before becoming the first round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche. (Brooks Bandits)

King said what makes Makar so effective is that he embodies the offensive attacking style of hockey that the Bandits coaches preach.

"He's incredible at handling the puck. He's incredibly offensively dynamic as you saw, the number of points he scores are comparable to forwards at pretty much every level he's gone to — both because he's so cool and collected with the puck, and he played for a team in Brooks that really fit well with his style."

Mental toughness

Makar was the highest draft pick ever in the history of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, which was something of a seismic event that shook hockey's (extremely) conventional wisdom, said King in an interview with The Calgary Eyeopener.

"He also proved to people that the old style of thinking — that if you played for a team like Brooks Bandits, and wanted to have that kind of  traditional high level pro hockey career, you'd have to go to a different level of junior hockey before making that break to either college hockey or the pros — that wasn't true anymore. [What it proved was] that [playing for] a team like Brooks made perfect sense for a high-level player like he was."

Makar's father Gary, reached on his cellphone in Buffalo ahead of the American-Swedish semi-final, said the best thing about Cale was his mental toughness.

"Since both of my kids (Cale's younger brother Taylor just played in the Mac tournament in December) have been small, we've always stressed mental toughness," said Gary. "So it's no pressure. He's a guy who just doesn't get nervous."

The mental toughness part didn't develop by accident, though. Gary works in advertising, and has always preached to his sons the power of visualization.

"I've just always been a person who just totally believed that life is what your thoughts make it," said Gary. "And that sort of philosophy is what we brought down in both our kids. You know that it's what you do with adversity — and I think you want to have adversity [in your life], because it makes you tougher."

Makar also said it's no coincidence that the Bandits have built a junior hockey powerhouse either.

"I can't say enough about that organization," he said, praising the team's coaches and facilities as first-rate.

"The rink is second to none. It's immaculate. The whole setup in the locker room, the video room, the training room — it's a first class job. You go there and your jaw just drops and you go, 'Wow.'"

"I give them tons of credit for how Cale progressed, both from hockey and just growing up. Whenever someone asks about Brooks, it's all checkmarks."

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener

The Calgary Eyeopener