Cale Makar, the NHL’s reigning Conn Smythe and Norris Trophy winner, was involved in an unusual play Monday night when Islanders forward Mat Barzal was called for a tripping penalty that would have resulted in an Avalanche power play. However, if you look closely at the replay, Makar actually tripped on his own, losing his balance after making a sharp turn around the net.
Makar must have felt guilty, because the 24-year-old quickly waved it off, absolving Barzal of any wrongdoing. The official took Makar’s word for it, overturning what would have been a two-minute minor. Makar’s stunning admission, declining a man advantage that could have staked the defending champs to an early lead (Colorado’s power play unit is among the league’s best), had social media buzzing, drawing comparisons to a commercial that made the television rounds several years ago, promoting sportsmanship and fair play.
Reflecting on it later, Makar seemed unsure of his decision, expressing mild regret for his honesty, clearing his conscious at expense to his own team. “Looking back, I don’t know why I did it,” said Makar, deflecting praise for his admirable display. “The second I got off the ice, I felt a lot guiltier for my teammates to not get the powerplay. It happens in every sport, bad calls, so you just got to eat them and that’s what it is. I saved the ref from some media attention tonight, that’s for sure.”
Makar’s teammates, at least the ones who went on record publicly, had his back after the game, including Evan Rodrigues, who insisted the star defenseman has nothing to apologize for. “He’s an honest player. He goes about the game the right way. It’s kind of who he is,” said Rodrigues, who contributed to the winning effort with a goal in Monday night’s shootout, getting Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin to bite on a brilliant deke. “That’s Cale. He can do what he wants, in my book.”
Barzal applauded Makar’s gesture after the game, admitting that if it were him, he probably would have bit his tongue.
The season is only two months old, but Makar, with one play, has made himself the early frontrunner for the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded annually to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”