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Catching The Torch: Cole Caufield does his best Ilya Kovalchuk impersonation

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Scoring goals and shushing crowds, the Canadiens’ top prospect channels the Canadiens’ new star.

Shanna Martin/EOTP

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.

Last Tuesday, after getting booed every time he touched the puck, Ilya Kovalchuk silenced the crowd with his shootout goal to win the game in New Jersey. By bringing one finger up to his mouth and looking up to the stands, he signified to everyone that the time for hostility was over — because the game was. He won it with a powerful shot that cleanly beat Louis Domingue.

Maybe Cole Caufield watched this particular game and was inspired by the boldness. On Friday, after scoring a power-play goal that looked like the first sign of a comeback for the Wisconsin Badgers, he skated to the wall and copied the Russian sniper’s move. The only difference was the giant smile of the Habs scorer-in-the-making while he taunted the crowd, as opposed to the stern look of Kovalchuk.

Cole Caufield wears #8 with the Wisconsin Badgers

Unfortunately for Caufield, while that goal was one of the bright moment for his team in this game, it was a bit too early for him to announce the end of the festivities for the Michigan Wolverines. They scored several more goals against the defensively challenged Badgers and easily came away with the win.

Even so, Caufield fully displayed his confidence and desire to be a game-breaker; an attitude that will hopefully prove to be contagious to the rest of the group in this last stretch before the end of the season. He was a bit frustrated at times this weekend as he tried to take on more than his share of the offensive load for a team missing their other top offensive weapon, Alex Turcotte.

His four-point production was among his best in back-to-back games this season, but Wisconsin dropped both games to Michigan, solidifying their place at the bottom of the ranking of the Big Ten conference.

Caufield was equal parts playmaker and shooter this weekend. He picked up three assists from precise feeds to teammates: one on a two-on-one after intercepting a pass in his zone, another from deep in the offensive zone to his defenceman sitting inside space at the top of it, and a last one, arguably the most impressive, by catching the puck in front of the opposing cage as it flew by him and freezing the defence with the threat of his shot before finding his teammate for a tap-in.

Despite his best efforts, the Badgers couldn’t score enough to compensate for their defensive miscues. Both games, like many others this season, were uphill climbs they couldn’t complete.

One of the positives of the Badgers’ year is the productivity of Caufield. He’s currently second in points per game for freshman behind Nick Abruzzese, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect. The difference is the strength of their respective teams: Caufield has participated in 38% of his team’s goal, which is a bit more than Abruzzese.

Caufield is also tied for third in goals in the entire NCAA with a massive lead on the next closest freshman. A season of 20-plus goals is very likely for the Habs prospect, which is very rare for a first-year prospect.

Does that mean that Caufield is ready for professional hockey next season? Not necessarily. We will have a deeper dive on all the aspects of his play in the next few weeks as he completes his first collegiate season.

Jack Gorniak, LW, Wisconsin Badgers

Gorniak scored his second goal of the season on Friday. You could see the relief and joy coming out of him when the puck crossed the goal line.

On the play, he helped his team exit the zone with a well-timed intervention to slide a pass over to his defenceman accelerating up the ice, and then he joined the rush as a trailer. Gorniak didn’t immediately go for the net like he sometimes does. He waited for his teammate controlling the puck ahead of him to be ready to slide the puck to the middle, and then took a couple of steps forward to place his stick on the puck, deflecting it toward the goal. With a second touch on the rebound, he hit the puck past the goalie.

Jack Gorniak wears #11 for the Wisconsin Badgers

Adding a touch of patience to his high-energy play could make all the difference for Gorniak. It helped him pull off his goal on Friday, and could make his defensive game more effective. The Habs fifth-rounder works hard, but sometimes a bit too hard, over-committing on certain plays to take himself out of them completely.

This three-on-three rush defence on Saturday is one example. Gorniak sprinted on the backcheck to defend the opposing team entering his zone, and instead of slowing down to stick to the high opponent, he pursued the puck and double-teamed the carrier. The Wolverines dropped a pass to their trailing shooter for a great scoring chance.

That being said, Gorniak generally provided a good off-puck presence to the Wisconsin Badgers this weekend. He forechecked effectively as his short, powerful strides carried him past opponents to win the race to most loose pucks, and his steady presence gave the team a way to balance their too-volatile nature.

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