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Catching The Torch: Cole Caufield nets his first NCAA hat trick

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The freshman was picking corners last weekend against Notre Dame.

NHL: JUN 26 Canadiens Development Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Cole Caufield bounced back from a quiet pair of games against Northern Michigan with a hat trick in the first game of a back-to-back against Notre Dame, and his performance carried him way up the scoring leaderboard.

Caufield is currently tied for ninth place in goals per game in the NCAA. All the players before him have at least one year of experience in the league under their belt, and for some, it’s two or three. To find the next closest freshman on the list, you have to scroll down for a couple of seconds until the 39th spot, occupied by Shane Pinto. Pinto has 11 goals in 23 games to Caufield’s 16 in 24.

It’s not the record-breaking pace that was anticipated for the 15th overall pick at the start of the season, but scoring every game was never realistic. It barely happens in the CHL, and it’s that much harder to do it in the much more organized league that is the NCAA. Opponents have almost a full week to scout the best elements of the opposing team and adjust to their style. They devise plans to effectively shut them down.

That plan didn’t work against Caufield last weekend. The Habs shooter managed to cleanly beat Cale Morris of Notre Dame on three occasions. His shots found small openings in the netminder’s coverage, instead of grazing against the posts or the top of goalie’s glove like they would have in recent weeks of bad luck.

It wasn’t a career performance from Morris, but he has shown himself to be solid in previous seasons, posting good numbers inside a Notre Dame system that prides itself in its defensive abilities. On Friday, the Habs prospect simply made the most of his chances. Pucks fired from his stick flew to the top of the net before the netminder had time to block their path.

The line of Alex Turcotte, Dylan Holloway, and Caufield certainly helped the diminutive scorer get to the necessary spots to make use of his shot. Holloway rammed an opponent in the neutral zone on Caufield’s first goal of the game. It created a turnover and a loose puck that the right-winger picked up and transformed into a controlled zone entry. His speed led him past a defenceman, and then, by sliding the puck in front of the opponent now on his tail, he managed to improve the angle of his shot. He moved the puck laterally enough to have it fly to the left of the goalie and hit the top of the net on the far side.

This last move surprised the goalie. He didn’t expect a forehand shot from this position with the route Caufield had taken to enter the offensive zone. The scorer took advantage of the opening the defenceman gave him.

Turcotte did most of the work on the second goal. Caufield headed to the net and watched his linemate drag the puck around a defender and slide it over to him in perfect position. Caufield caught it and redirected it high — short-side this time. The puck barely moved on his blade from pass-reception to shot. A quick flick of the wrist sent the puck in the open cage before the goalie could complete his lateral move.

The last goal was all Caufield. He took advantage of a defensive box pulled to the other side of the ice by Wisconsin’s power-play movement to move closer to the net and load up his shot. He kept his feet pointed to the opposite boards to add some deception to his release and fired above Morris’s shoulder.

While most players know that Caufield will shoot in this situation, his recent tendency to try for the cross-ice pass added a bit of doubt in the mind of the defence.

In the play above, Caufield dragged the puck toward the net and dropped his knee. He looked like he was shooting, but he instead connected with Linus Weissbach in a one-time position at the other faceoff circle.

Next weekend, Wisconsin hosts Minnesota at home. Minnesota is only a couple of spots ahead of the Badgers in the Big Ten Conference. It will be another key weekend for Caufield’s team as it looks to progress in the post-season race. It seems unlikely the squad will catch its rival with how the season has gone, but if all the team’s youngsters can hit their stride at the same time, there is still hope yet for Wisconsin.

Jack Gorniak, LW, Wisconsin Badgers

Gorniak wasn’t dressed for last weekend of games. The team won over the Fighting Irish in the first game, but lost the return contest. The loss could mean he gets another chance to showcase what he can do in a bottom-line role on Friday.

Playing time has been harder to come by for Gorniak in recent weeks. He was rotated in and out, and when he was given ice time, it remained limited, making it hard for him to pick up numbers. Solidifying a place in the lineup will first come from his defensive value, or using his skating ability to pressure, contain, and break up the plays of the opposition.

CHL Weekly performances

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 2 0 1 1
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 1 2 3
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 3 0 2 2
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 2 0 1 1
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 2 0 0 0
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 3 1 1 2
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips Injured
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4 0 1 1

CHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 55 31 40 71
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 43 19 31 50
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 61 23 58 81
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 62 23 44 67
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 60 6 25 31
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 60 15 59 74
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 37 5 20 25
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 36 0 6 6

NCAA/USHL Weekly performances

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 0 0
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 2 0 3 3
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern Injured
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 0 0 0
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 2 1 1 2

NCAA Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 28 2 5 7
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 36 19 17 36
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 35 5 25 30
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 21 3 7 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 33 3 18 21
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 45 17 25 42