Up and Down Year for Michigan's Sophomore Goaltender Marked by Bittersweet Performance in Title Game
by James V. Dowd/CHN Reporter
DETROIT If Michigan fans are prepared to blame goaltender Billy Sauer for tonight's 2-1 loss to Notre Dame in the CCHA Championship game at Joe Louis Arena, they certainly must also be prepared to give the sophomore the credit he deserves for keeping the game so close.
On a night where he was outshined by CCHA Championship MVP goaltender David Brown only on the scoreboard, Sauer went quickly from hero to goat with 11:08 remaining in the game.
As Notre Dame's Garrett Regan came down the ice and unleashed a shot, Sauer prepared for and made a routine save. But as Regan shot, Fighting Irish forward Jason Paige snuck in behind Michigan blue liners Jason Dest and Mark Mitera.
Normally this was no cause for alarm, but when Sauer tried to clear away the rebound, he fumbled the puck back towards the net, and Paige, all alone, easily chipped it in for the game-winning goal.
After the game, Sauer was down on himself, and correctly blamed his mistake for his team's loss.
But had Sauer not being playing the game of his career prior to that, a single mistake might not have mattered.
"It's a tough goal to give up," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "He normally would handle that rebound easily. He gave us a chance in the game. He played hard and he played well. We just couldn't get that goal back for him."
Even knowing that he played well couldn't console the 19-year-old.
"I thought I played fine," Sauer said. "But obviously not good enough. I have to eliminate those goals. I have to eliminate mistakes."
Sauer is known as a goaltender who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Heading into the NCAA tournament next week, Michigan's chances will certainly depend on how Sauer handles the disappointment of making such a costly mistake.
In the past, after struggling in a game, Sauer has often struggled to mentally recover from the burden of thinking he cost his team a game. After giving up six goals in a loss to Minnesota during his freshman season, Sauer was visibly shaken for weeks to come, giving up four goals on several occasions before earning his first shutout on his 18th birthday in January 2006.
Even this season, after giving up 8 goals to the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, Sauer allowed 19 goals in his next five appearances, and was even benched in favor of backup Steve Jakiel for a game against Western Michigan.
Sauer knows that he clean this skeleton out of his closet in order for his team to succeed in next weekend's NCAA Regional Tournament.
"I have to eliminate mistakes," Sauer said, echoing earlier sentiments. "But going into the tournament, I can't dwell on that stuff."
Michigan alternate captain Jason Dest knows that if Sauer can return to the form he showed through most of the game Saturday night, his team will be in a good place.
"It's a momentum game," Dest said. "Either you're on your heels or the other team's on their heels. It comes down to a big save and you can turn it around and maybe get something going on the other end. When a team scores, everybody gets excited and it's a huge momentum shift. So a big save is huge, it really is."