With the recent release of the refined Big Ten Hockey schedule, leading goal-scorer Cole Caufield announced that he plans on staying in Madison to compete with the Badgers.
“As of right now I’m a Badger. I made a promise to come back here and be a Badger,” Caufield said. “So this is where I’m at right now, and I’m just going to give my all here.”
During the 2019 NHL Draft, when the Stevens Point native was only a freshman, Caufield was selected as the first choice (15th overall) pick by the Montreal Canadiens.
Prior to the announcement of the upcoming NCAA schedule, the Canadiens were actively seeking other options for their star draftee to train before he likely signs a contract with them the following year. Rumors began to circulate in late-September that the Swedish club team Rögle BK was pursuing the 19-year-old to travel to Europe before he begins his NHL career.
Under normal circumstances, this decision would be simple for the sophomore forward. He would play in Madison as a Badger until the end of his junior year, then sign his highly anticipated contract with the Canadiens. The pandemic, however, can potentially alter his decision. Several hockey clubs in the Swedish Hockey League, including Rögle, and several other clubs across Europe have an abundance of available talent looking for a place to play this fall.
“The important thing for us is that he can play between September and November,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told La Presse. “Ideally, he would spend the year in Europe. It is the one whose profile could interest the European clubs the most.”
The normal standard for accepting an import in Sweden is that if he can’t fill a role as a top-six forward or top-four defenceman, then that club would be better off giving that job to a Swedish player. Making the jump from college hockey to an elite European club with little to no professional experience is a bit much to ask from a 19-year-old Wisconsin native.
While the Canadiens’ best case scenario involves Caufield making that jump, he plans on staying in Madison to complete what will likely be his final year as a Badger. Caufield will likely sign a contract with Montreal following his junior year season, 2021-22.
The Badgers are currently scheduled to open their delayed season as early as Nov. 13, following a six week delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The schedule includes 24 league games for each team that was a part of the original schedule. The complete schedule has yet to be finalized, but with no fans there is a possibility of midweek games and daytime starts.
“There were lots of smiles,” head coach Tony Granato said after he revealed the scheduling situation to the team. “It was nice, finally. To be able to tell the guys officially that there would be an announcement made was something that we’ve been waiting for.”
The upcoming season will feature 24-game conference schedules, plus an additional four games per school against Arizona State University, hosted at Big Ten venues. The 2020-21 schedule will conclude with the Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament.
The 2021 Big Ten Hockey Tournament will return to the one-weekend, single-elimination format used during the first four years of Big Ten hockey and will feature all seven conference teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. The tournament will be held March 18-20 and will consist of six games (three games on Thursday, two games on Friday, and the championship game on Saturday).
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Following protocols outlined in the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force, the Badgers are mandated to undergo daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition. Arizona State has agreed to adhere to the same testing protocols as the Big Ten Conference.
In addition to the variety of changes being applied to this program, Granato also announced the team may even play some home matchups in LaBahn Arena, and hand the Badgers a home-ice advantage on a silver platter.
“We could be doing a lot of different things than a normal, typical college hockey season,” Granato said.
This should come as no surprise of course, considering the word “typical” has become foreign to the sports landscape in 2020.