The thing started with another game against New Jersey, with a different coach behind the bench and a different outcome for the Montreal Canadians.
It’s important to keep in mind Cole Cofield’s miraculous changes in terms of his season. Because if Martin St. Louis deserves a fair credit for what we’ve seen from Cowfield over the last two months, it’s the child who deserves it the most.
He is the only one to have scored a goal and added an assist to the 7-4 win over the Devils on Thursday. And even if St. Louis puts him in a position to do so, only Cofield can control the outcome.
St. Louis admitted that Cofield played more confidently at the start of his term and quickly strengthened it by sitting him down with Nick Suzuki and increasing his ice time to around four minutes on average. But it is Cofield who has rewarded that belief with 16 goals and 29 points in his last 26 games.
Showing the first signs of a 7-1 defeat to New Jersey on February 8, Dominic Ducharem stood behind the Canadian bench which turned out to be the last. Cofield had four shots in the net that night, he had a chance to score his team’s best and was undoubtedly his best player and it was clear that something had changed in him. Even if the results of his first 30 games were the same as many – his name is not featured in the goal or help column.
After a three-week break, which began on January 18, Cofield returned to Montreal fresh, healthy and ready to show off his first part of the season. After a 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, he was caught in Covid, spent the next five days in quarantine, and then moved home to Wisconsin to spend the rest of his time in the United States.
There, surrounded by family and friends and practicing in the rink where he became a college star, Coffield resetted his mind.
“Put the past behind you and wait for the games ahead,” he said after the reflection on his return to Montreal. “You can only focus on the next day. You can’t go too far on your own.”
It was a difficult lesson to learn, and one of the most important part of what was supposed to be a rookie season of a dream turned out to be a nightmare.
Cofield has never struggled before – not through his short hockey career, not through the US National Development Team program to establish himself as the highest scoring player, not to debut in the AHL, and certainly not to jump into the top players in the world. Running in Montreal in the League and Stanley Cup finals late last season immediately established himself as a big-time player – and it took him a while from the Canadians to figure out how to deal with it.
How Cowfield did it is to get back to the basics, get back to work, and get back into the game that brought him to this level in the first place.
Since then Caufield’s performance growth has been indicative.
There are several examples of this in Montreal’s first control-time win against the Devils since January 2017.
The first was when Cowfield came over the line to feed Ram Pitlik and make a smart play, with Suzuki scoring his 20th assist of the season to make it 1-0 Canadian 4:35 in the first period.
The second came nine minutes later when Suzuki flew into the zone after reading that it was about to take over. Caufield made himself a clean break and enough separation to get the score.
Earlier in the year, he may have tried to give Andrew Hammond one or two fake bites. He will probably be post or net wide off twisted boots. But this time, the 21-year-old simply leaned over his stick, telegraphed his shot, and without hesitation sent the puck over Hammond’s glove.
“I think his shot is definitely one of the strongest points in his game, and he can beat any goalkeeper from anywhere,” Suzuki later told reporters on the site. “So, just having the confidence that you can just come in and tear one out instead of trying to dick out the goalkeeper, I think that’s a big plus for him.”
After Cowfield scored, he didn’t even celebrate. It was his 17th season, and he used it the way he wanted to score in the final 11 games.
He has done several more plays away from Pak to get himself a chance against the Devils, finishing the night with three shots in the net and a total of six attempts. He played great.
It has been like Cofield in almost every game since the game against New Jersey a few months ago.
“When he swings and plays with confidence, it’s fun to watch him, it’s fun to play with him,” Suzuki said. “And he’s going to be a big part of the team in the future. It’s hard to stop him when he plays like that.”
Tonight it proved to be a big factor. Chris Wideman is back in the lineup with one goal and two assists. And others are hitting the board on behalf of Jack Evans and Joel Armia Canadians.
But what happened to Cofield on this redemption tour has had a huge impact on the team’s future. He was expected to be a star this season and struggled to comply with that billing outside the gate. Now it appears he is establishing that status, with 33 other players in the league making higher clips since the beginning of February.
Did Ducharme give him the best chance to show up before? The answer is not definitive.
But Cofield did not do enough to help himself. He lost some focus, paying some attention to his misfortune – the 1.4 percent shooting percentage was lower than he had ever felt at any level of hockey and indicated his misfortune – and he began to look around him instead of inside.
It closed when he returned from Wisconsin.
Cowfield, of course, got a lot of help from St. Louis and of course Suzuki (who made one point per game in his last 26), but he is most responsible for what happened to himself in this second half.
The coach knows it’s important to keep that in mind. That’s why when he was asked about Cofield a week ago, St. Louis said, “I think he had his own evolution, so to speak, because I think he cleared his mind, just figured out how to play hockey. Didn’t forget that. “
“He played with a lot of jumps,” St. Louis added when asked about his role in the development of cofield at Tampa Bay. “I wouldn’t say I was the one who got Cole. I think Cole got Cole.”
He has spoken of taking Cofield to the next level from here, and there is no question that he will have a strong influence in that process.
But the biggest thing for Cofield will be where his career goes from here, and it seems clear now – the way he’s playing – he knows it.