The Colorado Avalanche benefits from the contagious professionalism of Cale Makar and Devon Toews.
Cale Makar and Devon Toews have become arguably the best defensive pairing in the entire National Hockey League – and no, that is not by coincidence. This Colorado Avalanche group has a much different feel than other teams that I have been around.
This is a team that knows what it takes to win and is hungry to get back to the top. Makar is in the middle of his fifth full NHL season, but even after five years, during which he’s captured a Stanley Cup ring and a Conn Smythe Trophy, the 25-year-old defensemen is still hungry for success.
“It’s interesting because I always feel like you always want more. It’s not like you feel like you’re being greedy or anything, but once you get a taste of that success you don’t want to let it go”, Makar told Daily Faceoff.
The Avalanche got that taste of success in the Spring of 2022 when they were able to capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 21 years. After what felt like a letdown year as they were eliminated in a tough Game 7 against the Seattle Kraken in the 2023 playoffs, the entire group has completely bought in.
“The culture of the group of guys that have been here for a while — how locked in we are with our nutrition, our meals, our recovery, what we do in the gym and how we prepare for a game. I think guys that come in notice that and recognize it,” Toews said. “They see how it’s worked for us and they buy into that pretty quick, they ask questions. Over time — the group as a whole has figured out what’s worked.”
The word “culture” gets thrown around a lot in the hockey world, especially by coaches. A head coach can come in and establish a culture, but it’s the players who truly live and breathe by it.
“We’re lucky. We have so many guys on our team that are driven,” Makar said. “It’s not just a one-and-done thing for us. I think we want to strive to do that year in and year out. That’s a big proponent of it, just being around good guys.”
Not only are the Avalanche good guys on the ice, but they’ve also had a major impact in the community of Denver.
Toews has done a ton of work with Freedom Service Dogs, which is an organization that helps people with disabilities and military vets partner with custom-trained assistance dogs.
“We actually named a Black Lab Litter after a bunch of the guys a couple of months ago so that was fun,” Toews said. “We brought them into the rink and the guys got to play with them, so it’s cool to see what they do and how hard they work — and how well trained the dogs are.”
Apparently Erik Johnson has about 10 dogs and Makar is a pretty decent dog sitter, but the biggest puppy guy in the team is Samuel Girard.
“I wouldn’t let the goalies anywhere near my dogs, they’re already weird enough,” Toews said jokingly.
He still enjoys a good slurpee, but when I asked Makar if he has a favorite item that he’s purchased, Bowen Byram overheard me and felt the need to chime in by saying, “a couple nice shacks,” which led Makar into talking about his home in Colorado.
“I have a good spot in Denver now, so probably that,” Makar said. “It’s going to be your biggest purchase in life, so it’s good to be able to solidify the roots in Denver.”
Makar’s transition into the NHL wasn’t typical. He played his first game in the show in the playoffs and has taken off ever since. He has learned a lot about himself since he packed up his dorm room in 2019 before settling into Colorado.
“I try to just enjoy it. I think I’m a guy that takes everything very seriously — just the day in, day out,” Makar said.” Now it’s a lot about the mental side of the game and it can’t always be about hockey. I think there are times that you can separate yourself mentally from the game — get that little reset. You have to find ways to dial it in when you need to, but at the same time you have to be able to take a step back for your mental well-being.”
The chemistry between Makar and Toews is off the charts on the ice, but that all stems from how they carry themselves away from it. These are two gentlemen that live their lives like the pros that they are when they throw on that Avalanche sweater.