When Badgers hockey star Cole Caufield was selected by the Montreal Canadiens fifteenth overall in the 2019 NHL draft, he had a decision to make.
The freshman from Steven’s Point had the choice of either going straight to the NHL on an entry-level deal or going back to the University of Wisconsin for his sophomore season.
While it had always been his dream of playing in the NHL, his choice of returning to the Badgers ended up working out for Wisconsin, the Canadiens and hockey fans everywhere.
At the time, it would’ve been very easy for Caufield to move on from the Badgers. They were coming off a disappointing 14-20-2 record and fellow teammates Alex Turcotte and K’Andre Miller were both set to begin their NHL careers.
Caufield had, of course, a great freshman season for Wisconsin, leading the Big Ten in goals. But he would have to elevate his game to a whole new level in order to propel Wisconsin back into national conversation.
Thirty goals, 52 points and a Hobey Baker award later, the Badgers made their first NCAA tournament since 2014 in the spring of 2021.
The season started off with a 6-6 record that supported the mediocre narrative set for Wisconsin in the preseason. Though, beginning with a 4-0 win against Arizona State, the Badgers went on a 13-2-1 stretch to end the regular season. Caufield lit the hockey world on fire during this incredible run, scoring 18 goals in just 16 games and seeing his points per game total go to a full 2.00.
The 11 conference wins Wisconsin racked up in this time included two crucial victories against Minnesota, who had a commanding conference lead after winning their first eight conference games. It was enough for Wisconsin to just barely edge Minnesota in the final conference standings 17-6-1 compared to the Gopher’s record of 16-6. Wisconsin had won its first Big Ten regular season championship in over twenty years, and Caufield fittingly won the Big Ten player of the year to go along with it.
While the Badgers did end up losing both the conference tournament to Minnesota and their first game in the NCAA tournament to Bemidji State, Caufield left his mark on Wisconsin hockey.
He had become just the second Badger’s player to ever win the Hobey Baker award and the first to lead the NCAA in scoring since Steven Reinprecht in 2000. By returning home for one more season, Cole became one of the most impactful players the Badgers have ever had. On top of the hockey world, he was ready for the next chapter of his career to begin.
The Badger’s finished their season just in time for Cole to play the last ten regular season games for Montreal. Pointless through his first three games, it seemed Caufield was just going to be another top prospect thrust into his playing time way too early.
The scoreless streak continued in all three regulation periods in his fourth game. Locked in a 2-2 tie against the Ottawa Senators, Cole found himself on the ice with teammates Jeff Petry and Jake Evans in a 3-on-3 overtime. Petry was in control of the puck when he hit Caufield with a pass near Ottawa’s goal. Caufield buried the one-timer for the game-winning goal, his first ever point in the NHL.
He was able to recapture the magic his very next game, with another overtime goal after being tied 2-2. Though Caufield’s time at Wisconsin has officially come to a close, his legacy remains vibrant — and seems on course to continue growing.