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Big Ten men's hockey coaches pick Badgers for fifth, Cole Caufield for preseason first team

Big Ten men's hockey coaches pick Badgers for fifth, Cole Caufield for preseason first team

From the Get ready for Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey season with State Journal's in-depth coverage series
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Big Ten Conference coaches expect Cole Caufield to pick up where he left off.

And some around the league think the University of Wisconsin sophomore forward, picked Monday as a first-team preseason All-Big Ten player, could be the best player in NCAA hockey this season.

Caufield is one of them.

"That's something I've wanted to prove this year, coming back and showing my teammates, showing college hockey that I just want to be the guy," he said. "I'm just really excited for this year because it's a huge opportunity for us."

Coaches were less enthusiastic about the Badgers than they were about the 2019 Montreal Canadiens first-round draft pick. UW, which finished in last place in the seven-team conference in 2019-20, was tabbed for fifth in the coaches' preseason balloting this year.

Minnesota was the choice to win the Big Ten, with defending champion Penn State predicted to fall to last place after losing several key players.

"There isn't one team ... that doesn't think they're in a position to have a year where they can compete for the Big Ten title and should be a team that makes it to the (NCAA) tournament," Badgers coach Tony Granato said. "I think all of us feel that we have teams and programs that should feel that way going in."

Badgers sophomore forward Dylan Holloway and junior defenseman Ty Emberson were honorable mention selections for the preseason teams.

With Caufield, there are high expectations for the follow-up to his Big Ten Freshman of the Year season when he led the league with 24 points in 24 games.

The offseason brought questions of whether he would return to UW or turn pro. With assurances that the pandemic-delayed NCAA season would start in November, he passed on offers to play in Europe, where leagues have started this season earlier than in North America.

Caufield scored 19 goals overall last season, the best from a Badgers freshman since Dany Heatley 20 years earlier.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, whose team will host UW on Friday and Saturday to open the season, called Caufield "maybe the best player in the country."

The challenge for Caufield has been to augment his goal-scoring ability with better play when he and the Badgers don't have the puck. Being predictable and reliable in a full-ice game is an important step to the pro level.

"I think his commitment and his work ethic and what he's put into it, he knows that," Granato said. "He's a smart kid. We watched the playoffs. We watched some of the games together with Montreal. He's got a drive to be there."

Caufield said extra time in the weight room before the delayed start of the season has given him boosts of confidence and comfort.

"I'm just really looking forward to showing it in the games and proving myself that it did pay off and I'm a different player," he said.

While the league kicked off its first game week of 2020-21 with the preseason predictions, Big Ten coaches worked Monday toward finalizing changes for how the standings will be calculated.

One part was a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential that some games will be canceled. The league has considered using percentages instead of points for the standings and has to adjust tiebreakers.

Another part was a nod to NCAA hockey's new overtime rules that, like most other levels of hockey, send games tied after regulation to a 3-on-3 overtime for five minutes. The Big Ten has to decide whether to award a standings point to a team that loses in the 3-on-3 overtime or to give the winning team all three points.

Final decisions are still to come.


Picking the top 20 NCAA men's hockey teams ahead of the start of an unusual season

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