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'I expect him to have a really big second half'

Cole Caufield is back on campus at the University of Wisconsin and will play on Friday night

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

MONTREAL - While Cole Caufield didn't fill the net at the World Junior Championship, that won't be the case back on home turf.

Caufield and the rest of the University of Wisconsin Badgers begin the second half of their season on Friday night with a weekend series against No. 8 ranked Ohio State, and head coach Tony Granato fully expects the Canadiens' prospect to pick up right where he left off before joining Team USA.

"I expect him to have a really big second half and have a really big weekend this weekend," said Granato, who watched Caufield register 12 goals and 20 points in 18 collegiate games so far this season. "He's back playing with players he's had success with, and he knows what his position is and what his role on our team is. I know he wants to get back playing to the level that he was earlier in the year."

Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin Athletics

To put the 19-year-old forward's numbers into perspective, Caufield's 20 points at the break were the most for a freshman since his hockey idol Joe Pavelski registered 21 points in 18 games to begin the 2004-05 campaign.

And his 12 goals were the most since Dany Heatley scored 15 times in 18 games during his freshman year in 1990-00.

That's some pretty good company right there, and Granato is eager to see more of the same from one of his prized pupils.

"The World Junior thing was a little bit of a hiccup in the road. That's part of being a player, understanding that it's not going to go perfect all the time. But when it doesn't go perfect, you learn from it, you move on, and you get back out there. You get that chip back on your shoulder and you get back after it. That's what I'm expecting of him," added Granato. "You look back at any point in his career, he's always found a way. If it's not going great, he'll find a way to get going. To me, that's what great players do."

Granato loves the fact that Caufield and his fellow World Junior teammates are getting down to business so soon after returning from the Czech Republic.

It's the perfect remedy to shed some of the disappointment they're feeling after coming up empty-handed overseas.

"You've got to move on and get ready for the next challenge. Fortunately for Cole, he's jumping right into a lineup against one of the top teams in our conference and in college hockey," mentioned Granato. "He's got another chance right away to get back on the ice and have fun doing what he loves to do, and that's scoring goals and winning hockey games."

Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin Athletics

Caufield has always been an expert at lighting the lamp, of course.

His numbers with the United States National Team Development Program before being drafted by Montreal were nothing short of remarkable.

And he kept things rolling at Wisconsin with his blistering shot, which Granato wants to see more of in the weeks and months to come.

Keep in mind that Caufield leads the Badgers with 79 shots and registered a career-high 12 shots against Michigan State on December 7.

"Shoot the puck as many times as you want. You cross the blue line, I expect it to be delivered to the net. Their goalie should be expecting it, his linemates should be expecting it, the crowd should be expecting it. Everybody should. That's something he does better than every other player, certainly in our league and probably as well as a lot of NHLers that are great goal scorers. That's what we want him to do," praised Granato. "He's got to be on the scoresheet and be a threat every time he crosses the blue line. I'd love to have him increase that shot total to where he can get five or six a game. That would be more of what I think he's capable of."

According to Granato, Caufield "must've hit 16 or 17 posts, maybe more" during the first half of the season and "there was about six weeks in a row where he averaged over a two a game," so he's convinced the youngster's production will only increase going forward.

With that in mind, Granato is committed to pushing the Stevens Point, WI native to take his overall game to new heights and be the best possible version of himself while he's still a Badger.

"You have to challenge them. Cole needs that. Cole wants that. And Cole has to have that. It's a stepping stone to get ready for the next level and playing in Montreal," explained Granato. "As a coach, you have to be in a position where you're challenging him and pushing him and trying to help him understand what it's going to take to be ready for that next challenge."

Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin Athletics

Now that Caufield has adapted to the college game, though, Granato believes the time is right to give him that extra nudge.

"I'll give the freshmen a little bit of an adjustment period. He's handled that really well. But now that's done and over with. You're here and you understand what it's going to take to help your team win. He has to accept a huge responsibility that he's got to be a difference-maker night after night. The freshman part and the learning curve, that's done with now. He's a college player," emphasized Granato. "That break is another marker in the season where you're no longer a rookie, you're no longer a freshman, and you're no longer a younger player. You understand the game, you played almost every team in the conference already, you played in hard buildings, you played at home, and you were able to learn about your teammates."

It sounds like this is going to be extremely fun to watch, and we can't wait.

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