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Experience finally paying off for Wolverines, Sauer

by James Murphy

When Billy Sauer arrived on campus, his predecessor, current Rangers prospect Al Montoya left Michigan earlier than expected and Sauer had to basically do it on his own.
After being thrown into the fire at just 17, Michigan junior goaltender Billy Sauer is finally finding the consistency needed to survive the pressures of being a starting goaltender in Ann Arbor.

Sauer is off to a 7-1 start with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage for the No. 2 ranked Wolverines.

“Consistency has really been his biggest problem and Billy seems to have found that this season,” legendary head coach Red Berenson said. “It’s been a long haul for him and a tough job for such a young kid, but he has stuck with it and things are finally paying off.”

When Sauer arrived on campus two years ago, he came in as one of 11 freshmen. His predecessor, current Rangers prospect Al Montoya, was supposed to mentor Sauer into the starter’s role, but Montoya left Michigan earlier than expected. Suddenly, Sauer had to basically do it on his own.

“It was asking a lot for Billy at such an early age, to come in and replace Montoya right away,” Berenson acknowledged. “It would’ve been easier, for sure, if Al had stayed and he (Sauer) was able to ease into that role and the pressures of playing here, but that’s how it went and he was forced to learn on the job.”

While Sauer played well, going 11-6-4, with a 3.04 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in his rookie season, he never solidified himself as a true No.1, and the Wolverines were ousted in the first round of the NCAA tournament by North Dakota.

Last season, with a heavier workload, Sauer had a very respectable 25-14-1 record, but his goals-against was still above three, at 3.03, and his save percentage was not where he or Berenson would’ve liked it, at .896. Michigan once again fell to North Dakota in the first round.

“I think he was up-and-down, game-to-game and just not as good as he or everyone knew he could be,” Berenson said.

But as Berenson pointed out, not only was Sauer being baptized by fire, he also had to go through two different goalie coaches. Now, it appears Michigan has found the right match for Sauer. Former Michigan goaltender Josh Blackburn has taken over as goalie coach and both Berenson and Sauer have seen an immediate impact.

“I think having a different coach in his first two seasons definitely hurt his game and now we seem to have found the right fit with Josh,” Berenson said. “His preparation is better and while that comes with the experience and maturity that he gained, I think Josh has been a good influence.”

“The fact that he has played here definitely helps me relate to him and what he tells me,” Sauer said of Blackburn, who played for Michigan from 1998-2002. “He knows what I’ve been through and what I’m going through now, so it really helps when we work together.”

Blackburn both agrees and disagrees with Sauer’s assessment.

“I think it definitely helps that I know what’s expected here, but let’s face it, not many goalies who have come through here, have gone through what Billy has,” Blackburn said. “He came in here at such a young age and did what many of the guys before him did at 19. Now he’s an experienced 19-year-old junior starting in net for one of the best teams in the country.”

Berenson and Blackburn credited Sauer for learning to keep things simple, not dwell on a loss or mistake and utilize his skill and talent.

Two seasons after he was handed the reins of a freshmen-laden squad as a freshman himself, Sauer is now leading a team with 12 freshmen and is playing the way coach Red Berenson and many others believed he could.

“I think over the last two seasons, Billy has really matured and learned to move on from games, but also learn from his mistakes,” Berenson said. “This start has been huge for his confidence, but he’s pretty grounded so that helps not getting too high or too low.”

Blackburn has noticed some technical changes to Sauer’s game.

“He’s definitely keeping things simple, not over-thinking and he’s using his athleticism more in net,” Blackburn said.

So two seasons after he was handed the reins of a freshmen-laden squad as a freshman himself, Sauer is now leading a team with 12 freshmen and is playing the way Berenson and many others believed he could.

“Kind of ironic I guess,” he said. “I came into a team full of freshmen, but now I’ve got that experience and I feel a lot more comfortable.”

On Campus Clips -- Hockey East extended the contract of Commissioner Joe Bertagna through the 2010-11 season. Bertagna, 56, came to Hockey East in 1997 after 15 years with the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC). He is the longest serving commissioner in Hockey East’s 24-year history. … Hockey East also named Maine junior goaltender Ben Bishop “Defensive Player of the Month” and Boston College freshman forward Joe Whitney “Rookie of the Month.” Bishop is a St. Louis Blues prospect and Whitney is undrafted. … The Central Collegiate Hockey Association announced the third annual Hockey Day in Michigan will take place on Feb. 16, 2008. The CCHA, FSN Detroit, the Detroit Red Wings and the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association are teaming up to bring a statewide celebration of hockey in Michigan. This year’s event has also been scheduled to coincide with USA Hockey’s “Hockey Weekend Across America” which takes place Feb. 15-17, 2008. Michigan has nearly 70,000 registered players, coaches and officials in addition to almost 5,000 teams registered with USA Hockey, which is the most of any state in the nation. Hockey Day in Michigan will feature contests, clinics and a pair of televised college hockey games, including Michigan State at Western Michigan and Lake Superior at Michigan, broadcast on FSN. … Miami University junior forward Justin Mercier was named CCHA Player of the Month. Mercier led the nation in goal scoring during October, scoring six times in six games, as the RedHawks, ranked No. 1 in the nation, posted a 6-0-0 record. He is tied for the CCHA scoring lead in overall points with eight points (6-2-8). … University of Denver senior goaltender Peter Mannino and freshman forward Tyler Bozak were named Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week honors, respectively. The Denver duo was honored for their efforts during last weekend’s two-game sweep at Minnesota. Mannino stopped 68 of 70 shots on goal in the series for a .971 saves percentage, posted four shutout periods, and blanked the Golden Gophers on all 10 of their power-play opportunities. Mannino has allowed one goal or less in all six Denver wins and he is 6-2-0 record with a 1.52 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage. Bozak’s had five points, including his first collegiate hat trick, and a pair of shorthanded goals. … St. Cloud State sophomore forward Ryan Lasch, was named Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week after a five-point weekend against Alaska Anchorage. Top 10

1. Miami 8-0-0
2. Michigan 7-1-0
3. North Dakota 4-2-1
4. Michigan St. 6-1-0
5. Denver 6-2-0
6. New Hampshire 4-1-0
7. Boston College 3-1-3
8. Clarkson 6-2-0
9. Wisconsin 4-2-0
10. Maine 4-2-0


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