Cole Caufield on the Martin St. Louis effect, Carey Price’s legacy, his Nick Suzuki bromance & more

“I feel like once you’re part of the Habs, you’re part of this team forever. The legends that have come before you — you’re playing for them, too.”

“I think proving people wrong is something that I’m just going to continue to do.”

This is what Cole Caufield had to say in late June of 2021, after the Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Las Vegas Golden Knights in round three of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The then-20-year-old forward from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, had been told repeatedly that, at 5’7” and 165 pounds, he wasn’t fit for the NHL. He was selected 15th in the 2019 NHL draft, passed over by other teams because of his height. But he was an extremely lucky offensive find for the Habs, having broken a record in 2018–19 with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 squad, scoring 72 goals — four years earlier, Auston Matthews had scored just 55 times in the same program.

Caufield only played 10 regular season games with the Habs before facing Matthews and the Leafs in game 2 of the first round of the Playoffs. Between May 22 and July 7, 2021, Caufield’s four goals and eight assists, pulled off with significant swagger and memeable grins, made him a local celebrity. He earned the nickname “Goal Caufield.” His jerseys were selling out at Tricolore Sports. The Premier of Quebec was tweeting about him (a lot), as was the Arizona Cardinals’ J.J. Watt, a fellow Wisconsin-ite. It was the best of times.

Then the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. In Oct. 2021, Caufield wasn’t himself. He managed only one assist over 10 games at the start of the season, and was sent to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, for nearly three weeks. Without their #1 goalie Carey Price and without their captain Shea Weber, among other stars of the recent Playoffs, the Habs had entered into the darkest stretch of its history. Losing streak after losing streak was made more bleak by the Omicron wave of COVID-19, which infected the entire team (and forced a suspension of play, no-fans games and a province-wide curfew). The infamous “system” put forward by then-head-coach Dominique Ducharme was a disaster, with players like Jeff Petry, who’d been stellar during the Playoffs, reduced to a total zombie on the ice. It was the worst of times.

“I’ve been almost at the very top and at the very bottom, so I think I experienced a lot in the two years that I’ve been here,” Caufield says, calling Cult MTL from Eau Claire, Wisconsin in late August. “The pressure, and the love that the fans have for the team — they just want your team to succeed. I don’t think there’s any fanbase that really thinks about the team as much as Montreal does. It’s a pleasure to play here. It’s just a great spot to play hockey.”

September cover Cult MTL magazine Cole Caufield
Cole Caufield on the Sept. 2022 issue cover

Conditions have been made even greater for Caufield by the recruitment of his childhood hero Martin St. Louis as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. The 5’8” Québécois forward was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014 following an illustrious 16-season NHL career, including a 2004 Stanley Cup win with Tampa Bay, of all teams. His arrival in Habs world in February changed the course of the season — though the team still finished last in the league for 2021–22 and slogged through another losing streak in the spring, the wins piled up, and players like Petry were reanimated. Caufield said that, for him, it was like a switch was flipped, and after scoring only once over the course of 30 games, he was Goal Caufield again.

“The way he coaches, I kind of connect to it in a way that makes sense to me,” Caufield says. “The things he talks about, the way his brain works and how he sees things is very straightforward and makes you think about it, too. He kind of gives you the ideas and you make it your own. It’s been cool ’cause I’ve never really had a coach like that. I really looked up to him throughout (my life) — he’s the kind of guy where you wanna soak everything in, so every time he’s talking or showing something on video, you’re dialed into it. He’s done great things so far and I’m really excited to get to work with him going forward.”

Martin St. Louis Montreal Canadiens Habs head coach
Martin St. Louis

Caufield is also excited about getting back to big city life, including cultural options like live music, the last major pandemic restriction to be lifted in the spring. Though he missed out on being part of the Habs contingent at the LASSO country music festival last month, Caufield is excited to see the rescheduled Chris Stapleton show in the familiar confines of the Bell Centre. Yes, he is yet another Habs player who loves country, a pattern he says is more of a coincidence than an ingrained component of hockey culture.

“For me, honestly, I think (country music) is just more relaxing than that upbeat stuff, or rap. I do a lot of listening in the summer. I got to go to a Morgan Wallen concert this summer, too, so that was really cool.”

Despite being aware of the wealth of things to do in Montreal, Caufield admittedly likes to “keep it kind of low-key.” As you can imagine, he’s often stopped by fans in public, but celebrity is something he takes in stride.

“People are just really friendly, it’s all good,” Caufield says, recalling one funny instance where a fan asked for a picture of him with their dog. “I first got to Montreal during COVID, so everything was pretty much shut down, but it’s a great place to just walk around. I think Mount Royal is really cool — you can just walk up and get out of that downtown atmosphere.” 

Though he says he hasn’t been to a bad restaurant in Montreal yet, “which is kind of crazy” — his current faves are Grinder, Tuck Shop and, being a big breakfast guy, Arthurs and Beautys — he hasn’t taken the time to get properly acquainted with Quebec’s most famous dish.

“I’m going to make people hate me, but I think I’ve only tried poutine once, at the airport. It probably wasn’t one of the best, being at the airport, but I gotta try one of the real best poutines out there.

“I try to keep it pretty healthy,” he adds, “but during the season I’m always trying to squeeze in some kind of fatty food like ice cream, just ’cause you’re losing so many calories. Plus, I kind of have a sweet tooth.”

When asked for advice about how to endure school-induced stress, Caufield recommended being as organized as possible to keep school work on track, while using the simplicity of nature — taking walks, being by the water — to soothe the soul and/or distract from anxiety triggers.

As for keeping mildly embarrassing school-project videos off the internet, like the one co-starring Caufield that found its way onto social media earlier this year — he recommends remembering all your email passwords.

“I had forgotten about that video — that was my senior year of high school. Honestly, after that came out, I was like, ‘How can I take this down?’ But I couldn’t get into my old high school email that I was posting on, so it’s out there for good. I think I did an okay job acting. It’s not really my best trait, but it’s pretty funny.”

Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield
Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield

In case anyone was wondering whether Caufield was acting in his recent videos with teammate Nick Suzuki — whose activities around the city have provided significant content for the Habs on social media — I’m happy to report that the bromance is real.

“We’re best friends,” Caufield says. “Pretty much every day, we’re hanging out doing something. He actually just came out last weekend and visited me here (in the U.S.), so it was cool to have him here and kind of show him around this place. For sure, you can call it a bromance or whatever, but it’s not just for show (laughs). We do actually like each other.”

Caufield also feels fortunate to have played alongside and befriended some hockey legends during his time in the NHL, among them Habs goaltending GOAT Carey Price. Price’s career appears to be coming to a close following the recent revelation that he’ll soon be placed on Long–Term Injured Reserve due to the fact that his injured knee is simply not healing.

“I never would’ve thought, growing up, that I’d even get to meet this guy, let alone have conversations with him and get to sit next to him in the locker room. He’s a guy you’re just in awe of every time he walks in the room, you just get nervous. It’s just cool. He was so good to me. Going forward, I think I’ll always be able to talk to him; he’s going to be around.”

Cole Caufield Carey Price
Cole Caufield and Carey Price

Having never won the Stanley Cup — but picked up pretty much every other trophy and medal imaginable — Price’s legacy and eligibility for certain honours is questionable for some (frankly tiresome) critics, but Caufield doesn’t think that a Stanley Cup should make or break the notion of “success” in hockey.

“I don’t think so. He’s unbelievable. Getting us to the Cup final the other year, that just doesn’t happen without a guy like that. Coming up two short to a team that won two in a row at the time? He’s done so much and been humble about it all the way through. That’s the thing I admire the most, the way he’s carried himself through the highs and lows. It’s like nothing fazes him. I think it’s pretty cool to have a guy like that who’s done so much for hockey and for the city of Montreal and for the team. I’m just thankful to have him as a friend and a teammate.”

Remembering the 2021 playoffs, Caufield shouted out some of the other legends he briefly called his teammates: “You get thrown on the team and you’re looking across the room and you’re playing with Shea Weber and Corey Perry and Eric Staal, all these guys that have done so much, and you’ve literally done nothing. It’s just awesome to be part of something like that. I’ll remember that forever.”

Last April, Caufield had a meet-and-greet with former Hab and Hall of Famer Yvan Cournoyer after a game at the Bell Centre, one of the ways the Montreal Canadiens keeps its young players connected to the long history of the team.

“Yvan and I had some good talks. Every time you get the opportunity to talk to these guys, every time they come back to the rink, it’s so important and special to us. They love it so much and it really just makes you appreciate what you are, what you have. You just want to do it for guys like that, and get to leave your mark on the city as well. I feel like once you’re part of the team, you’re part of this forever. The legends that have come before you — you’re playing for them, too.” ■

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue of Cult MTL. 

The Montreal Canadiens season begins on Oct. 12, with exhibition games starting on Sept. 26.

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