Jeff Sauer, a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and two-time national champion as men's ice hockey coach at the University of Wisconsin, died Thursday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 73.
Sauer's 31-year NCAA Division I coaching career included 655 wins and national titles in 1983 and 1990. The replacement for Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson, Sauer led the Badgers to three NCAA Men's Frozen Four appearances, 12 NCAA tournament berths, six Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff titles, and two WCHA regular-season crowns in 20 seasons (1982-2002).
"When you talk about positive people that genuinely care, Jeff Sauer is at the top of the list," USA Hockey president Jim Smith said in a statement. "He's a giant in our sport overall, but particularly from the USA Hockey perspective, he really made a difference on the advancement and visibility of disabled hockey."
Sauer was named coach of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team in 2011. In his six seasons, the United States reached the championship game of every major international competition, winning seven events. It most recently won its sixth straight international championship at the 2016 World Sled Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Sauer coached the U.S. sled hockey team to a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics.
"The chemistry on that team I had and winning the gold medal is probably the highlight of my career in relation to what I've been able to accomplish with different groups of players," Sauer told NHL.com in March 2014.
Sauer was honored with the Lester Patrick Award in 2011 for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States. He was recognized with USA Hockey's Distinguished Achievement Award in 2000 and the John "Snooks" Kelly Founders Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association in 2004 for his contributions to the overall growth and development of the sport of ice hockey in the United States.
"There are few like Jeff," Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said. "He brought an infectious joy to our sport every single day. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Jamie and the entire family."
At Wisconsin, Sauer coached several future NHL players, including Bruce Driver (1980-83), Chris Chelios (1981-83), Gary Suter (1983-85), Tony Granato (1983-87), Mike Richter (1985-87), Curtis Joseph (1988-89), Brian Rafalski (1991-95) and Dany Heatley (1999-2001).
"He always cared so much about his players," Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, said. "Our sport at all levels benefited from Jeff's unending passion and commitment."
Sauer coached at Colorado College, his alma mater, for 11 seasons (1971-1982). He was twice named WCHA Coach of the Year (1972, 1975) and led Colorado College to an upset of the University of Denver for a share of the only conference tournament title in school history.
"It was never about wins or losses for me," Sauer said. "It's always been about doing things the right way. The bottom line is, I was able to get up in the morning and want to go to work, and not many can say that."