BROSSARD, Que. – For Cole Caufield, eight days away from the ice rink was a respite from more than just hockey.
On Monday, after the Montreal Canadiens held their second training session since a COVID-19 outbreak forced them into quarantine on Jan. 2, Caufield said he used the break to get “a break from all the noise.”
We imagine it was easier to do with Canada’s drills and games stopped.
But it’s probably been pretty tough since Caufield landed in Montreal last winter, helping the Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup final. He’s heard more noise here than he could have ever imagined during his formative years in Wisconsin, and it’s probably been quite suffocating since coming on after an impressive debut and starting this season as the insurmountable betting favorite for the Calder Trophy.
The 15th overall pick in 2019 was expected to continue right where he left off after coming to the NHL in style with four goals and 12 points in 20 playoff games.
Instead, Caufield stumbled out of the gate in the pre-season and has since collected just one goal and seven points in 26 games in the regular season, spread over six games he made with AHL’s Laval Rocket.
As a result, there has been constant talk about Caufield’s play for more than four months – mostly negative, which is also something he was not used to playing in Wisconsin. It got so loud at one point that it was impossible to tune out.
In a market like this, where sports radios burst into two languages and the passion of fans spreading from calls to all social media platforms, it’s not as easy to avoid noise as to plug earplugs in. And even though Caufield says it’s a good idea to stay away from the apps like Twitter and Instagram – and he said that on Monday – I do not know anyone from his age group who puts it into practice.
I also follow him on the ‘gram’ and he posts more stories in a week than I do in a year.
But Caufield does not have to delete these apps from his phone to develop thicker skin and a stronger filter.
And if he is able to, it will make him feel less and less that he needs a break from it all, while his career continues to unfold on the massive stage Montreal offers him.
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Whether Caufield will admit it or not, it’s a process and he’s still learning to find his way through it.
It is good that the 21-year-old recognizes why it does not serve him to feed into the noise around him. When he says, “one night people will love you, the next night they’re just out to hate,” and that “you just stay right in your head, stay in yourself and just listen to the people who want to help you and see you succeed, ”it is clear that he at least knows what he should and should not take from the sum.
But when he said on Monday, “I do not really notice the external noise,” and that “it’s just something inside, and I do not really let the noise from the outside affect me too much,” it was hard to take him at face value . It was Caufield who brought up the subject when asked if the break allowed him to put his season to date in perspective, and to say he used the time to take a break from the buzz around him speaks to which end he will get. to work further with this season.
However, he is not alone.
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There are also many top players going through the steps and there is a new one that he can easily relate to – Jack Hughes.
The top pick in Caufield’s draft year was his center man in the United States National Development Team Program and is still one of his closest friends. He is the soundtrack for Caufield, but also a role model.
Hughes has experienced everything Caufield has since joining the New Jersey Devils nearly three years ago. Regardless of whether the markets are different, the exposure has been the same. And Caufield has gained perspective by watching Hughes deal with it.
He has seen Hughes only score seven goals and 21 points in 61 games in an overwhelming rookie season. He has seen him take a step forward, but not a leap in Year 2, with 11 goals and 31 points in 56 games. And Caufield certainly saw enough of the messages pouring in on social media suggesting that his untalented friend may be a bust as he struggled to meet extremely high expectations.
Now Caufield has seen Hughes post nine goals and 20 points in 19 games with the Devils this season.
“Jack and I talk a lot about it in particular, and you can obviously see how his first year went and how this year has gone,” Caufield said. “He’s a completely different player.
“It’s something we take very seriously is how well we play every night, but for us it’s just sticking to what works and playing the game the right way. And you know that at some point it will give you some rejections at some point, but you just have to stay straight and play hockey the right way. You can not really cheat the game too much because you are not going to make things go your way, so I think it’s like that, my mindset has been right now. At some point it will come, but you just have to keep your head down and keep working. ”
In terms of avoiding getting caught up in everyone else’s expectations, Caufield said Hughes has helped him with that.
“When we talk hockey, it’s about keeping your drive and keeping that motivation no matter what the score is and playing the whole 60 every night and just trying to control what you can control and not letting the external factors get into your head. ” he said. “I know what I can do on the ice, and it’s just a matter of doing it consistently every night. I think it’s something as a young player you learn from every night. 82 games is a long season, so you’ll have ups and downs. But the more you can stay confident and consistent with your game, I think that is when you get to take steps in your game. ”
Ben Chiarot sees a player who is finding his way at this level – one who is ahead of where he was when he first appeared in Winnipeg eight years ago.
“Something that took me a while to learn – and I was lucky to be surrounded by guys like Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd and guys who work every day to improve and get better, no matter how good they were – is that every day is about getting better, “Chiarot said. “And I think that’s something Cole already has. He has that mindset. You can see how he works in practice, and he pushes himself.
“He’s starting. He’s so young. And I think if he maintains the mindset that I know he wants and maintains that work ethic, then he’s only getting better and things will start to click for him. I think he has a really bright future, just based on the fact that he works and pushes himself every single day as the top guys that I was so lucky to play with when I was a young guy. ”
The remaining 48 games give Caufield a good chance to prove it – most importantly for himself.
He will have to adapt to do so. And the more he is able to properly filter the noise around his game, the more he will be able to take advantage of the process of improving as a player.