Michael Sauer, shown here at last year's Rangers Prospect Development Camp, could be ending his junior career on the highest possible note later this month.
The 2006-07 season has ended for every member of the Rangers organization except one – who is now in position to win one of the most coveted team championships in all of hockey.
Defenseman Michael Sauer, the Rangers' second-round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, helped the Medicine Hat Tigers claim the Western Hockey League crown on Monday night, as they beat the Vancouver Giants 3-2 in double overtime of Game 7.
The Tigers now enter the Memorial Cup tournament as the WHL champions. The four-team tournament pits the winners of the Canadian Hockey League's three major-junior divisions (OHL, WHL and QMJHL) in a round-robin format against the host team. Vancouver and Medicine Hat will therefore meet again this month, since the Giants are hosting the Memorial Cup.
Medicine Hat will open tournament play on Saturday afternoon against QMJHL champion Lewiston.
The Memorial Cup is the oldest major amateur hockey trophy in North America, dating back to 1919. Only the Stanley Cup itself has been awarded longer than the Memorial Cup, which is a nationally televised tournament in Canada and has been a launching pad for some of the biggest names in hockey.
Sauer, who signed a pro contract with the Rangers last August, is the first Blueshirts draftee to compete in a Memorial Cup tournament since Ryan Hollweg, also with Medicine Hat in 2004.
Other current members of the Rangers organization who have played in past Memorial Cup tournaments are Dan Girardi, who was on the champion London team in 2005, Nigel Dawes, who went the Memorial Cup with Kootenay and fellow Rangers prospect Craig Weller in 2002, and Fedor Tyutin, who was a member of the 2001-02 Guelph team that reached the tournament.
Sauer, 19, has been a key contributor to the Tigers' playoff run. He has a goal and five assists in 23 postseason games, but his biggest contribution has been on the defensive end, where he ranks second on the team with a plus-11 mark.
At the beginning of the season, Sauer did not seem destined to play into the Memorial Cup, because he was on the roster of a struggling Portland Winter Hawks team. However, a late-December trade to Medicine Hat enabled Sauer to land on a team that was heavily favored to win the WHL, which it managed to do nearly five months later.
Medicine Hat's run to the WHL championship was impressive, particularly since the Tigers had trailed the series 3-2 coming home for Games 6 and 7. The Tigers snapped a 3-3 tie on a power play with 7:47 remaining on Sunday night and then came back 24 hours later to win 3-2 in double-overtime. The WHL title was Medicine Hat's second in four seasons and fifth overall since entering the league in 1970.
The fourth team in this year's Memorial Cup tournament is OHL champion Plymouth, which defeated Marc Staal's Sudbury Wolves in the OHL Championship Series last weekend.