BROSSARD, Que.— Cole Caufield fell one goal shy of tying Auston Matthews’s United States National Development Program record, one goal shy of reaching a staggering total for a rookie in the program, and yet he was disappointed.
So the Wisconsinite returned home after scoring 54 goals over the course of the 2017-18 season and he told his father, Paul, “I’m going to break that record.”
It’s all well and good to set lofty goals, but it’s another thing altogether to accomplish them. And then there’s what Caufield did this past season—shattering Matthews’ 2014-15 record by 17 goals en route to scoring 72 and finishing as the highest-scoring player to ever pass through the program.
Now that the sharp-shooting righty has his sights set on earning a job with the Montreal Canadiens, who drafted him 15th overall last Friday in Vancouver, Paul Caufield has little doubt he can do it.
“He’s a very competitive kid,” Paul said in an interview with Sportsnet on Wednesday.
“Defiant,” is the word we’d use to describe young Cole. We’re talking about a 5-foot-7, 162-pounder who’s always been the smallest player on his team. A kid who, up until joining the national team, always played a level up—against players who were much bigger and upwards of two years older—and he never let any of that get in the way of his ascension.
After watching Caufield take to the ice at Canadiens development camp for the first time on Wednesday, we saw a player intent on proving himself with every stride he took. A determined, focused, intense kid who was welcoming the challenge of having to stand out amongst his peers.
And then we spoke with him.
The highlight of the conversation? The answer Caufield gave to Journal de Montreal reporter J.F. Chaumont, who asked if Caufield was treating this as his best opportunity to make the team given that NCAA rules (he’s expected to go to the University of Wisconsin) will deprive him of the chance to participate in Canadiens training camp come fall.
“If you’re not doing that, then why are you here?” Caufield retorted. “My job is to prove to people that I belong here.”
It’s a long shot, but the man who knows him best assured Caufield is more than comfortable with people seeing it as that.
“When someone says he can’t do it, he wants to do it more,” Paul Caufield said. “Every time you watch him you’re like, ‘Okay, he’s doing this, and he’s doing this, and he’s doing this,’ and he makes it like his job is he just wants to keep proving people wrong. So we get surprised when he does this stuff (scoring as much as he did), but when you sit down and really think about it, ever since he’s been little—he’s always been little, the smallest guy in the game—he’s always had to prove it, and I think that’s really helped him.”
Caufield has also had many role models to admire along the path to this point. Small players who authored gigantic NHL success stories. Players like the ones his father listed and praised for having paved the way. Players like 5-foot-7 Canadiens legend Henri Richard, or 5-foot-6 Theoren Fleury, or the generously listed at 5-foot-8 Hall-of-Famer, Martin St. Louis.
“Marty St. Louis said it best when we talked to him,” Paul Caufield said. “He said, ‘I don’t consider myself a small player, because when we go out on the ice we’re all hockey players.’
“I think that’s really helped Cole. He knows it’s not going to be easy every level he goes up, but he says he’s going to find a way, and he’s going to find a way to make it work because he’s not going to be the first player that does it.”
Without reading too deeply into his first day as a Canadien, there were signs Caufield could turn his dream into a reality sooner rather than later. In the first of two intra-squad scrimmages, he led his side with four shots on net. In the second one, he broke away from coverage on three separate occasions and came within a hair of scoring.
Then, on a shootout breakaway to wrap the day’s activities, Caufield took the puck from right to left, faked a shot and tucked one in.
— Here’s Your Replay (@HeresYourReplay) June 26, 2019
He didn’t celebrate as the dozens of fans in attendance cheered him. He just calmly skated back to the bench like a player who knew it was just the first of many goals he’ll score in a Canadiens uniform.
Competitive? You bet.
And, like we suggested, Caufield is defiant.
“I don’t think I’ve had any doubts in my own mind (about making it),” he said earlier in the day. “I think other people might have. I think even two years ago was when people started to believe in me, (but) I always believed in myself. I think this year kind of opened people’s eyes and more people started to believe in me that I could do this. In my mind, I always thought that I could and had no doubts in myself.”