(WFRV) – When Tony Granato was hired to take over Wisconsin’s hockey program in 2016, most fans thought that it would be an instant fix for success in Madison. In his first season, the former NHL All-Star and coach led the Badgers to a winning record, but after three straight losing seasons, some wondered if he was heading into a make-or-break campaign since they hadn’t been to an NCAA tournament since 2014. His team responded with a 20 win season and a playoff berth this year.
“Our culture has really changed and it’s taken a while for the culture to grow and really get it to where we want it. It’s just too bad that this year we had the COVID year, so hopefully, a lot of people were able to catch it on TV,” said Mark Osiecki, Badger’s Assistance Head Coach. “But they just didn’t get to witness it first hand and feel the excitement in the building. To be able to watch Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway do what they did this year? I mean you go up and down the roster and they were a blast to watch. It was really fun to be able to grow and build on what we did this year.”
Caufield, of Stevens Point, will be making his NHL playoff debut when Montreal plays Toronto in game one of their opening series Thursday night and Osiecki knows firsthand how special the Wisconsin native is.
“Caufield is a homegrown player. You can watch him on TV and you can see certain things with the guys in the replays, but you really can’t understand the talent level he has,” said Osiecki. “To be there in the building and watch what he does and saw the small spaces that he is able to put himself in and not only that but to be able to see his speed and physical presence on the ice, it’s a special talent.”
There is no question as to how good Caulfield was at the college level and amongst his Badger teammates. He led the team with 52 points and 30 goals which was more than double the next three players on the roster. And the Hobie Baker award winner scored four goals in the final month of the regular season in the NHL, which included two game winners in overtime.
“The one thing you always question is the goaltending. And as you move up a level, it’s such a bottleneck where the goaltenders are outstanding and huge size-wise. They are unbelievably smart and they understand the angles, but Cole? You just can’t teach what he does. He finds that small space and puts the puck in tight areas and spots where goaltenders just can’t get there,” said Osiecki. “Cole really matured over the course of his time in Madison. The first year was a growing year, where he had to mature coming in. And he rounded into not only a great hockey player and a complete hockey player, but a better person who was better in the locker room, and a better teammate. And that’s going to bode well for him with Montreal.”
Wisconsin lost its share of talent due to graduation and the NHL but Osiecki likes his returning roster, along with a freshman class that could allow them to make a serious run at a national championship.
“We feel really good. We feel our culture is set and Badger hockey is back to where it should be. I think the Badger pride and the ‘compete’ factor,” said Osiecki. “It’s fun hockey to watch with good players coming in the freshman group. They are just humble kids, hard workers, and easy to coach, and not only that, but they’re talented.”
On Saturday Osiecki will host his charity event Casting4Kids which is a fishing tournament that has raised over $200,000 in its first two years of existence.
“It’s been quite a journey with this thing and we just threw it together. I was doing a radio interview with a local guide and buddy of mine and off the air right after the interview we were talking, and I said ‘hey do you have interest in doing this charity event for fishing?’ The first year we ended up raising over $50 grand and didn’t know what we were doing,” said Osiecki. “Then we put the dinner auction on afterward and after year two we raised $160 grand, and then COVID hit, so we’re going to scale down a little bit and we’re doing an online auction this year. The money goes to the American Family Children’s Hospital and UW Carbone Cancer Center. There is some great hockey stuff in the online auction, from Sydney Crosby to Jonathan Toews, along with baseball, basketball, and football memorabilia.”