Photo by Rena Laverty
Growing up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, there was one thing about each hockey season that Judd Caulfield couldn’t wait for: heading to Ralph Engelstad Arena to watch the University of North Dakota.
“We had season tickets growing up,” explained Caulfield. “Since my dad took pictures [for the team], me and my brothers got to tag along with him. We got to meet all the guys which was fun. My favorite player growing up was Zach Parise, so getting to meet him and see him close up was a neat experience.”
For Caulfield, he was able to get the experience of a lifetime this season when he got the chance to play at “The Ralph” as a member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Despite dropping a 6-2 decision on Dec. 29, he enjoyed his experience and is looking forward to next year, when he’ll be wearing a Fighting Hawks sweater.
“It was great,” said Caulfield. “They welcomed me with open arms — I didn’t get any boos which was nice. I’m looking forward to next season and going in and playing before their fans. They always draw a huge crowd there. It will be a great experience.
“I remember they gave a tribute to me which was nice. I know the manager at the Ralph so I have a feeling he may have set that up.”
More than anything, Caulfield is looking forward to playing at home next season in front of his family and friends.
“It’s going to be great to have my family at all the games next year,” he said. “They have really supported me through my whole career. It’s great they will be able to watch me live.”
Plus, he knows how much playing the college schedule this season will help him next year when he arrives in Grand Forks.
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“Getting to see the speed and pace of the college game will really help moving into next year,” Caulfield said. “You will have a little advantage and have a better understanding of what is going on. It will be easier to adapt.”
This could be a big reason why Caulfield has already noticed a huge difference between his first season with the NTDP and this year. He credits the program for a big part in the growth of his game.
“I think I have been adapting to the speed and pace of the game, better than last year,” he said. “It has helped a lot in practice, especially playing with the guys.
“All the shooting we do in practice really helps. We do a bunch of different drills in practice; we do skill sessions during practice and that really helps.”
Caulfield, who has tallied 12 goals and 35 points this season, knows that he always has work to do to make his game better.
“I want to improve my scoring touch. That will come with skill practice,” he said.
One of the big lessons the 6-foot-3, 207-pound forward has been learning is how best to use his body to become a big, physical power forward. It is all about fine-tuning his skills.
It’s a real honor getting to represent the USA. Not every kid gets a chance to do that so I’m trying to make the most of my time, and hopefully I will get a chance to do it again in the future.
“Being able to try and initiate contact first helps a lot,” Caulfield said. “If you are always waiting for them then you might be on a little setback.”
He takes to heart some simple advice from the Under-18 coaching staff — John Wroblewski, Dan Hinote and Kevin Lind.
“Take it day by day,” Caulfield said. “Don’t try to rush things. Keep developing and improve your game.”
Right now, Caulfield is focusing on his final few weeks in a Team USA jersey, including the team’s final league home game on Saturday, March 30, against the Youngstown Phantoms. He knows that the U18s have some work left to do to prepare for the final event — the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Championship in Sweden.
“We have been working towards this goal for close to two years now,” he said. “We need to keep polishing up our game and making sure that we are not making the mental mistakes and taking it to every team we play.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
It should come as no surprise that wearing the colors of his country has meant the world to him.
“It’s a real honor getting to represent the USA,” said Caulfield. “Not every kid gets a chance to do that so I’m trying to make the most of my time, and hopefully I will get a chance to do it again in the future.”
As he knows his time is coming to a close with the NTDP, there is one small thing that he wants to remember for his two years with the program.
“I want to be remembered as a winner and go out with a gold medal in the end,” he said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.