Brock Caufield often plays the proud older brother role, but everything has its limit.
Younger brother Cole Caufield has the hockey world at his feet in his NHL draft year. Projected as a first-round pick, the scoring dynamo could be the all-time leader in goals for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program by the end of the season.
Brock Caufield, a freshman forward for the University of Wisconsin, loves watching it happen from a distance. When it happens in his face, however, not so much.
So when Brock Caufield was told this week that his brother was jokingly talking up a 4-0 record in his favor in head-to-head meetings, it added another layer to an exhibition game full of subplots.
The Badgers host the U.S. Under-18 Team on Saturday, bringing three future UW players to the Kohl Center for an introduction of sorts before they join the team next season. Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Owen Lindmark are key pieces of a recruiting class that the Badgers hope will give the continuing rebuild of the program a surge.
That’s where the spotlight will sit. But for the Caufields and the dozens of fans they’ll have in the seats, there’s another featured element: another meeting of the brothers.
Cole’s U.S. teams won all four meetings with Brock’s Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League last season. Cole scored in three of the four games; Brock netted two goals in a March 2 game in Ashwaubenon where he was the second star and Cole was the third.
“Bragging rights are in my favor right now,” Cole Caufield said, “and I’d like to keep that because I’m 4-0 against him.”
Brock Caufield’s response ahead of Round 5?
“Getting to compete against him and getting bragging rights is important,” he said. “I don’t want to go back at the end of the year and him be telling me like he did last year.”
Other than those four games last season, it has been rare for the Caufield brothers to be on opposite sides. Cole, who turned 18 this month, often played up in age alongside Brock, 19, when they were growing up in the Stevens Point area.
“Playing with him your whole life, you kind of just got used to that,” Cole Caufield said. “You probably never thought you’d ever get the chance to play against him. But last year for sure was fun. It was weird to see him out there, playing against him. It was a really cool experience and doesn’t happen too often so we’re really lucky to have this opportunity.”
The other opportunity in it for Cole Caufield is to bolster his resume of scoring against college teams.
The National Team Development Program plays a schedule that includes USHL opponents as well as a selection of Division I and Division III foes as it prepares for the under-18 world championships in April.
After going without a point in his first six games against NCAA teams, Caufield has 12 goals and four assists in his last 10. He had two-goal games against Bowling Green, Maine, St. Cloud State, Holy Cross and Minnesota Duluth.
Playing alongside the likely No. 1 pick in June’s NHL draft, center Jack Hughes, has its benefits. But Caufield has emerged on his own talents as a gifted shooter, a product of countless hours with a stick in his hands on the ice where his dad, Paul, served as rink manager.
“When you can shoot the puck in the net the way that he does, it doesn’t matter who you play or who the goalie is,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said.
With 82 goals in 92 games for the NTDP, Caufield is two shy of tying Patrick Kane for second on the program’s all-time list. Madison’s Phil Kessel is the leader with 104 goals.
Caufield announced his challenge to the record with a 54-goal season last year, one shy of Auston Matthews’ single-season program record.
Running with the likes of Kane, Kessel and Matthews puts Caufield in rarefied air, but to the NTDP staff, there’s more to his game.
Under-18 Team coach John Wroblewski, a Neenah native, said that some pure goal-scorers have liabilities in the defensive and neutral zones. Not so with Caufield.
“It’s great that he’s scoring goals. We love that, and it’s a huge part of his game,” Wroblewski said. “But for me, what really separates him is his versatility to make plays and to get you going through the neutral zone.”
Turcotte was sidelined twice this season by a lower-body injury but he has been “an absolute stud” since returning, Wroblewski said.
The center from Island Lake, Illinois, played only three games over the first three months of the season. Since the middle of December, however, he has scored five times with six assists in eight games. He scored twice against Holy Cross and once each against St. Cloud State, North Dakota and Division III Adrian.
The injury was as much a mental challenge to Turcotte, also projected as a first-round pick, as it was a physical one.
“I couldn’t really control anything except getting healthy,” he said. “That’s all I was worried about. I know the draft is there but I wasn’t playing so there was nothing I could do to help myself with that.”
Lindmark, from Naperville, Illinois, is a center who has played both checking and scoring roles with the NTDP. He’s likely to be a lower-round pick in the draft.
Cole Caufield, Turcotte, Lindmark, likely 2020 first-round pick Dylan Holloway and Minnesota defenseman Mike Vorlicky are the five players who have signed to join the Badgers next season.
The infusion of high-end talent is what the Badgers hope will put them over the top in putting together a team that can challenge for titles.
“The coaches tell us that every day they see us that they can’t wait to get us on campus,” Lindmark said. “They’re so excited and can’t wait for the fans to be able to watch us.”
The same goes for the future Badgers players on the NTDP. Saturday’s game will give them a taste of what’s to come, albeit in an unusual scenario where a lot of their future teammates and coaches are on the other bench.
Add in some family ties for the Caufields, who are expecting most of the players and parents from the Pee-Wee team they played on to be in the crowd in addition to family members.
“I’ve been looking forward to this game all season,” Cole Caufield said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience playing against your future college team and especially your brother. Having that experience before going in next year is pretty cool. And having your family and friends there is something I’ll never forget.”
And if Brock Caufield scores, don’t be surprised to see some playful chirps directed at the guy wearing the No. 13 USA sweater.
“We let each other know all the time, competing against each other,” Brock Caufield said. “I obviously love him, but when it’s game time, we’re on different teams. We’re trying to win, they’re trying to win. So hopefully we’ll come out on top.”