There were elements of its own game that the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team wanted to monitor in its final exhibition of the season Saturday.
It had to be hard, however, for the Badgers to keep from enjoying some peeks into their future with the opponent, especially when they played a big part in the proceedings.
UW recruits Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Owen Lindmark gave a favorable preview of the 2019 freshman class as the U.S. Under-18 Team surged past the Badgers 6-2 at the Kohl Center.
Caufield scored twice with an assist, and Turcotte had a goal and an assist as the team of elite American youngsters collected a 10th victory in 17 games against NCAA opponents this season.
“Since we’ve had so much success against colleges this year, we just build off each win,” Turcotte said. “Each win gives us confidence. (College players) are way older and stronger than us, and knowing that we can compete with them and beat them does a lot for our confidence.”
Jack Hughes, the U18 team’s top-line center who’s expected to be the first pick in June’s NHL draft, also impressed with slick skating and easy-looking puck control.
He set up Caufield’s second-period score, collecting a breakout turnover by UW defenseman Ty Emberson and feeding the Mosinee native alone behind the Badgers defense for a high shot.
Turcotte scored 7½ minutes later by getting his stick on a Alex Vlasic centering pass while jousting with UW defenseman Tyler Inamoto for position in front of the net.
Caufield made it 6-2 with a third-period, power-play goal off pro-level feeds by Hughes and Trevor Zegras.
That was Caufield’s 30th score in 34 games this season. With 84 over two years with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, he tied Patrick Kane for second place on the all-time goal-scoring list, 20 behind leader Phil Kessel of Madison.
“It’s a pretty good feeling,” Caufield said of scoring in his Kohl Center debut. “We have a lot of good players on our team, and they set me up for success tonight. It’s cool to score in front of your future school and to score in front of family and friends.”
Caufield, Turcotte and Lindmark are among five players who signed with the Badgers last fall. Forward Dylan Holloway and defenseman Mike Vorlicky also are part of next season’s freshman class.
UW coach Tony Granato started the week leading up to the game saying that while it was an exhibition that didn’t count toward his team’s record, the Badgers couldn’t afford to lose focus.
For one, the U18 team is talented enough to pick apart a team whose heart isn’t into the effort. But the Badgers also get right back into the Big Ten Conference fray next weekend against No. 9 Notre Dame.
The result was embarrassing, said Brock Caufield, a Badgers freshman and Cole Caufield’s older brother.
“It showed us we have a lot of work to do,” Brock Caufield said. “It was obviously very frustrating. We know we’re better than that, and we’ve got to keep trying to prove it.”
Granato said he was fine with his players leaving Saturday’s game feeling abashed by their performance.
“They were really, really good,” he said of the U.S. “Our team probably wasn’t as serious as we needed to be.”
With a few rows of fans cheering them on in Section 207, Brock and Cole Caufield assisted on goals by UW’s Dominick Mersch and the Under-18 Team’s Cam York, respectively, in the first period.
UW defenseman Jake Bunz, who has played in just 28 games over four seasons, scored in the second period to tie the game at 2-2 before Matthew Boldy put the U.S. ahead for good on the power play.
Bunz, a Middleton native who on Thursday was unveiled as one of 17 nominees for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, beat Spencer Knight to the short side from the left circle. The Badgers kept the puck for Bunz even though it won’t officially register as his first score for the team because exhibition stats aren’t counted.
“I had a bunch of family and friends here, so it was fun to be able to score in front of them,” Bunz said.
U.S. Under-18 Team 2 3 1 — 6
Wisconsin 1 1 0 — 2
First period: U — Beecher 5 (McCarthy), 2:04; W — Mersch (B. Caufield, Ahcan), 5:23; U — York 3 (Hughes, C. Caufield), 14:14. Penalties: Freytag, W, 14:17.
Second period: W — Bunz (Messner, Freytag), 2:27; U — Boldy 21 (Turcotte, Thrun), 5:34 (pp); C. Caufield 29 (Hughes), 9:17; Turcotte 7 (Vlasic, Helleson), 16:57. Penalties: Gorniak, W, 3:47; Gildon, U, 7:05; Fensore, U, 14:16; Warren, U, 17:19; B. Caufield, W, 19:43.
Third period: U — C. Caufield 30 (Zegras, Hughes), 10:05 (pp). Penalties: Turcotte, U, 2:08; Inamoto, W, 8:45; Fensore, U, 11:51; Hughes, U, 18:57; Zegras, U (misconduct), 18:57.
Saves: U (Knight 6-7-8) 21; W (Lebedeff 9-x-x, Berry x-9-0, Blomquist x-x-12) 30. Power plays: U 2-for-4; W 0-for-6. Att. — 9,056.