College hockey: Remembering Jeff Sauer; Minnesota, Penn State set for massive Big Ten series
The games must go on, but before we get to the weekend ahead, it’s important to acknowledge the loss the college hockey world is feeling right now.
Jeff Sauer, one of the finest ambassadors college hockey has known and one of its most legendary coaches, died Thursday at 73 years old. His life in college hockey spanned more than 40 years, starting as a player at Colorado College and later as a coach at both CC and the University of Wisconsin.
During his illustrious coaching career, Sauer led the Badgers to two national titles. His 655 career wins place him eighth all-time among Division I men’s hockey coaches.
While the wins and national championships are impressive, the memories being shared publicly by many from the college hockey ranks show just how large of an impact he made on so many people in the game. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would have a bad thing to say about Sauer.
He gave a lot to the game and never asked for anything in return. Even after his college coaching career was over, Sauer continued leaving his mark on the game. He coached the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team to two gold medals at the Paralympic Winter Games, and served as a head coach for the U.S. Deaflympic team over multiple years.
He also helped mentor so many who were or would become coaches. Wisconsin’s entire coaching staff – Tony Granato, Don Granato and Mark Osiecki — played for Sauer. So did Wisconsin’s women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson.
There is no question that there have been few individuals who have made a bigger impact on college hockey than Jeff Sauer. He’ll be sorely missed, but forever remembered with the utmost fondness and respect.
Here’s a look at some of the big games coming up:
Friday, Feb. 3
Michigan Tech at Bemidji State, 8:07 p.m. ET: This will be an awfully big series in the WCHA this weekend as the top two teams in the conference square off. Bemidji State has the historic MacNaughton Cup within their sights with a four-point lead over Michigan Tech in the standings. This weekend could change everything, though. The Huskies have collected points in each of their last seven games, but still haven’t done enough to catch the Beavers. That said, this might be a good time for Tech to play Bemidji State, with the Beavers going 3-6-0 in their last nine. The two clubs split in their first series in Houghton, but this one in Bemidji looms larger in the thick of the WCHA regular-season title race.
Cornell at Union, 8:30 p.m. ET, American Sports Network: Cornell had been playing some great hockey, but recent losses to Harvard and Dartmouth have knocked them off course and bounced them back to the tournament bubble. Union, meanwhile, lost a close one to St. Lawrence last Saturday, ending a four-game winning streak. The Dutchmen have been flying high for much of the season, though, and still look to be the favorite to win the ECAC regular-season title. This will be the first meeting between the Dutchmen and Big Red this season, pitting the highest-scoring team in the nation against one of the stingiest for yet another fantastic ECAC battle.
Saturday, Feb. 4
Penn State at Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: After such a hot start to the season, the Nittany Lions have cooled off a bit, having gone winless in their last three games. They find themselves with a big test in front of them and a chance to prove themselves once again. Meanwhile, the Gophers are trying to hang on to first place in the Big Ten as they are now tied at the top with Wisconsin.
Penn State isn’t far behind, either. This will be the second of a two-game set, with plenty to play for in front of a national TV audience. The two squads will meet again in just two short weeks, so Saturday night’s contest will be a chance for each team to make a statement heading into what should be a pretty big series in State College.
Monday, Feb. 5 – The Beanpot Tournament
The Beanpot remains one of the great traditions in college hockey and this year’s event, the 65th all-time, should bring plenty of intrigue. Boston University, Boston College and Harvard are each fairly well positioned for a spot in the NCAA tournament, while Northeastern is on the bubble. If local bragging rights and a little late-season hardware aren’t enough motivation, each team’s position in the Pairwise will be. The winners of Monday’s games will meet again for the Beanpot title Feb. 13.
RELATED: USCHO.com Men's Rankings
Northeastern vs. Harvard, 5 p.m. ET, NESN: While the two teams in the other game have been the ones passing the Beanpot back and forth, a Northeastern-Harvard matchup means one of these two is going to get at least a crack at ending a long drought. Harvard is unbeaten in their last four after enduring a little three-game skid. A big win over Cornell last weekend helped the Crimson move further away from the tournament bubble.
Northeastern is also headed in the right direction. They’re unbeaten in their last five and are back in the NCAA tournament conversation once again. Boasting two of the top five scorers in the nation including junior Dylan Sikura, who is tied for the national lead with 44 points, the Huskies have a chance to turn some heads at a crucial time of the year.
Boston University vs. Boston College, 8 p.m. ET, NESN: The Eagles have a title to defend and appear to be hitting their stride with three straight wins. It’s the Terriers, however, that have been the more consistent of the two teams and have already one win over their Commonwealth Ave. rivals. That game featured a great battle of freshmen goalies, with BC’s Joe Woll making 31 saves and Jake Oettinger making 32 stops in BU’s win. You never know what will happen in the Beanpot, but that’s one of many reasons why this one is a must-watch.