MONTREAL - Cole Caufield paid tribute to Ilya Kovalchuk last weekend.
The 36-year-old Russian sniper's epic goal celebrations quickly caught the eye of the Canadiens' first-round pick (15th overall) from last June.
After scoring the shootout-winner on February 4 against the New Jersey Devils, Kovalchuk celebrated by placing his index finger over his mouth, silencing the crowd at the Prudential Center.
Three days later, the University of Wisconsin Badgers forward imitated the gesture after registering his 18th goal of the season in an 8-4 loss to the University of Michigan Wolverines at Yost Ice Arena.
"It was kind of an in-the-moment thing. It's pretty cool that we did something similar," mentioned Caufield, a freshman with head coach Tony Granato's contingent.
Caufield was also a big fan of the comical montage the Habs created in Kovalchuk's honor.
The Stevens Point, WI native is enjoying watching the 12-year NHL veteran in action.
"He's a top player in the League, and he's really fun and exciting to watch. The way he shoots the puck and creates things offensively is super amazing," explained Caufield, who has seen Kovalchuk register six goals and 12 points in 17 games with Montreal. "He does a lot of great things. It's cool to see him bring some excitement and have success."
If the moment calls for it and the timing is right, Caufield already has a cool celebration in mind for his next marker.
And Kovalchuk is an excellent source of inspiration.
The 19-year-old sharpshooter would love to learn from the former first-overall selection in the 2001 NHL Draft.
He's paying close attention to the way Kovalchuk handles himself on the ice, along with his off-ice preparation.
"That would be unbelievable. I think that'd really be something special," said Caufield. "I can just learn from him and take anything that I can really grab. I'll be kind of a sponge around him, see what he does and how he handles himself."
Even if the Badgers are in the midst of a disappointing campaign, Caufield's play has been impressive.
While Wisconsin's owns a subpar 10-17-1 record, the Canadiens' prospect leads all NCAA freshmen in goals (18) and points (32).
He ranks third in goals nationwide alongside three other players.
Caufield also registered the first hat-trick of his collegiate career on January 24 against the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
On the whole, Caufield is satisfied with his season so far, but he wants to keep on improving.
"I think I've done pretty well with the season we've been having. I'm just trying to be better every day and kind of grow as a player on and off the ice each and every day," he explained.
Since the start of the year, Caufield has been focusing on refining his play in the defensive zone.
Fortunately, he has a good role model in Granato, who boasts 774 games of NHL experience.
"My coach and I have been working on D-zone stuff, playing without the puck, and being more involved when I don't have the puck. I've got to always be around supporting. I need to get to loose pucks quicker," mentioned Caufield. "I think I've done that the past couple of weekends. It's always something that I should get better at and continue to grow at it."
Caufield and the Badgers will be back in action on Friday and Saturday against the Penn State Nittany Lions at the Kohl Center in Madison, WI.