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Cale Makar: Evolving Golden Boy-Neuroscience 101

July 19, 202311 min read

Is Makar NHL’s New Bad Boy?

Protect Makar-Neuroscience 101

Many fans are wondering what's happening with Cale Makar, who is often considered the NHL's golden boy. Some have even speculated that this "good boy" may have gone bad after a visit with the Department of Player Safety. While we may not know everything that's happening from the outside, we do know a few things for certain. For one, it seems like something the Makar of the past wouldn't do. Recently, he has experienced two concussions in a span of just 11 days. Is there a science to this so-called “bad boy’s” new attitude and swagger?


After suffering his concussions, Cale Makar started to change the way he played. While there's certainly a lot of toughness talk in this sport, your mind isn’t designed that way. Your self-talk might sound something like: “Your tough keep playing the same way and don’t let it phase you. Your body may agree, but your mind has a different priority.  The thing is your subconscious mind is not stupid, it knows that taking more hits like that could jeopardize your ability to continue playing. Your mind is constantly evolving and taking in new information like a computer program. So even if you consider yourself tough. Your default programming is to avoid your biggest fear, AKA not playing again. Most of our programming is subconscious, which controls 90-95% of our brain’s functioning. He is not consciously thinking about, all these things, while he’s going at full speed down the ice, but it’s like having internet open in the background slowing down your processing speed.


When people are comparing you to legends like Bobby Orr or Mark Messier, you know if you get one too many concussions, you’ll never have the chance. Unfortunately, we've seen many teammates whose careers have been cut short not because of physical injuries but because of the toll that concussions have taken on their minds.

Cale Makar Mental toughness


Bobby Orr:

Over the course of his NHL career, Orr played in 657 regular-season games, scoring 270 goals and 645 assists for 915 points.

In the playoffs, Orr played in 74 games and recorded 26 goals and 66 assists for 92 points.


Additionally, Orr's career was cut short due to injuries. So basically your mind creates a mental formula for you to follow, laying out your top priorities.

Bobby Orr being Bobby Orr

Or at least the Makar who’s going to do whatever it takes to protect himself now. Cale Makar is considered one of the top defensemen in the NHL, people know who he is. One of the only ways to slow him down is to lay him out. Your mind isn’t going to let you down, part one of his new programming is to be hyper-alert. Oh, but wait there is more to this formula, one very important missing component.

Part 2:


Cale Makar's recent hit on McCann was seen as uncharacteristic by some observers, as it didn't seem like something he would normally do and didn't make sense to his audience. While some were upset that he didn't receive a three-game suspension, others pointed out that Makar is not like anyone else in the league. He's the kind of player who will call off tripping penalties, as he feels it's the right thing to do. His integrity on the ice is well-known and respected.

However, after a concussion, the inflammation in your brain can alter a lot and can cause your mental pathways to operate differently. Your brain waves are different on both sides. This can affect your ability to achieve a flow state, which is the ideal state for peak performance. In a flow state, you're not overthinking or thinking too much at all; you're just fully present and performing at your best without any distractions.

You can’t just think about how your mind responds based on natural evolution but also what it needs to function at the top level. Just like you might not eat a big salad after the flu or you might have to tend to your liver after a night out. This organ has needs. Your mind is only operating from the level of nourishment, it can access. Your level of thinking is directly associated with this. Your mind is a system with your body and nervous system.

You can meet the NHL Concussion protocol standard, but not quite operate as your old self. Think scar tissues, in your muscles, similar to how your brain waves can get imbalanced in the mind. Making your flow state hard to access, meaning you’ll keep operating in a fight-or-flight state.

Sometimes your mind doesn’t cooperate the same way it used to. Your body can do the same moves, but you’re not quite your old self, because your mind and body don’t have the same chemistry (similar to a perfect hockey line). In high-pressure situations, you might notice you start to give away the puck in ways you never have before. You may be thinking more now or even overthinking. Your body can complete the same skills the old way, but your mind can't do it in the same way, so it creates this internal resistance or internal anxiety. It doesn’t make sense to your conscious mind why you used to be able to execute that skill flawlessly.

So, when you go for the puck in the corner, and everyone else thinks why would you do something like that, this bad boy version of you that's testing the lines is protecting you. Unfortunately for McCann, he wasn’t taking any chances. Hopefully, McCann’s okay.

Studies show: That being chased by a mountain lion is just as bad as you “thinking” you’re being chased by one. Real and imagined events fire up the same parts of your body. When your nervous system gets calibrated differently you start to think cats are mountain lions. You perceive minor threats as major ones because you operate in that state of protection. For example, being chased by a mountain lion and going for the puck in the corner can create similar stress responses. So, when the audience says McCann was a cat you didn’t have to hit him, your reality is different. They aren’t in the play; your perception is different.

Your mind is constantly operating in a state of fight or flight, which can make you more agitated and alert. So things that didn’t used to make you mad, make you furious. Maybe you’re still angry that you don’t play the same way after you were the victim of the two ruthless hits. Your body is trying to help you survive in the best way it knows how. Welcome to human evolution.  Your conscious mind might say “we’re tough enough to take the hits, play the same way. The subconscious mind says if you are tough enough to take it, you won't survive to become the player you dreamed of being.

Then you add in the aftermath of letting yourself and your team down, and the whirlwind of emotions associated with your unexpected playoff game vacay.  To then go back to game 6 trying not to think too much, but the memory of “don’t do that again or else” floating around in the back of your mind. We don’t know what we don’t know. We can only apply the science, only Makar can confirm textbooks mixed with his reality.

According to Wayne Gretzky's MasterClass, one of the reasons for his success was that he didn't change the way he played, even when he was facing bigger opponents during his junior B days. He always had to avoid big hits, because he was always smaller. Similarly, Cale Makar seems to have adjusted his play style after suffering from concussions, becoming more defensive in his hits to avoid taking unnecessary risks.

Most people don't understand there are so many ways to apply the science to send him back into his flow state, reset his mind, and who are we kidding give him an edge to hitting because it is a real threat. Ways go beyond the stereotypes of drugs or talking to someone with a notebook about all your feelings. Think mind engineering, reverse engineer your flow state. Toughness doesn’t evolve, it just handles the weight of your circumstances. How good can you stand because that is how good you can have it.

Sure, you could change your hitting style and wait until your mind and your body sync back up, but in the meantime, your stress response is playing with your perspective on the ice, and interferes with your hockey IQ, which will play with your physical skills and your confidence when your physical skills are already exceptional. In golf, they know when to change someone’s swing and when to target the mind.

There are ways you can reconnect your mind and body back together and work on your skills not to go back to that old version of you but to evolve into that new version. Evolve, because that old version of you might let you get hit again, but the evolved version of you doesn’t, you colours inside the lines so the player safety department doesn’t come after you. What if we could have good boy Makar with a new unforgettable edge, someone you don’t want to mess with? A Makar who exceeds his own standard, using knowledge 80’s hockey players wished for.

In Tom Brady's "Man in the Arena" documentary, there's a scene that many viewers may have missed, but which was actually one of the most crucial moments in the series. It involves Randy Moss, who went from being an all-star for the Vikings to being terrible in Buffalo and then killing it in New England after working with Brady. During the documentary, the announcers used to say “Randy Moss is not capable of speed anymore,” It wasn't his body that was the problem, but rather his mind. When he reset himself, he was able to perform at an even higher level than before. At one point in his career, he was even a discount receiver, which is almost unheard of in the NFL for a Hall of Fame player. This just goes to show how important is to stop underestimating the mind in performance. And to stop calling it this basic mindset of positivity, it’s a system that cannot be underestimated.

The sad part is there are so many players, operating from this disconnected state. One concussion in college and they are at a disadvantage, so they try to force their physical skills. The guys who have put upwards of 100,000+ hours (since they were five) working on their physical skills but spending 0 hours working on syncing their mind with their physical skills. Sounds like a risky investment portfolio. There are guys who can do this naturally, but what happens when something happens and that goes away? There are some guys who never reach that first peak like Randy Moss did; they never had the opportunity to have a downfall season because they didn’t get there. Ever think about the guys in the A, that belong in the N and vis versa? The guys telling you to work on your mind, are the guys out of the league. Thinking back on the could’ve been, living with the regret of not knowing.

It is no longer controversial for your injured body to get the royal treatment. You want to get seven people to cater to you, cupping, massage, physio, acupuncture etc. You’re still the manliest of all men because you’re improving your performance and you’ll be the show. But with the mind, it is this controversial pandora’s box. If you don’t open this box you’ll look at and drink the sports Kool-Aid, you’ll focus on confidence, intensity, toughness, mental health and basic sports psychology. You won’t understand that your mind isn’t a “set” it’s a system, with unlimited potential that you aren’t accessing. Chasing confidence is like chasing symptoms. Confidence is an output, to change your result you need to change your process.

Cale Makar is considered one of the top defensemen in the NHL, arguably of the best young defensemen in the game today. Makar is also known for his ability to read and react to the game, and his hockey IQ is considered to be one of his strongest attributes. In his rookie season in 2019-20, he was named a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, and he was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. He has already shown his irreplaceable talent.


We need to protect Makar so that he can reach his full potential as one of the greatest defensemen in the NHL. We all want to see an evolved Makar, who leaves our jaws on the floor while we are memorized by his talent.


In other news: Is there a Mackinnon mental Game 7 Curse?


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Karlyn Fischer

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