One of the most recognized and respected leaders in hockey worldwide, Jeff Sauer, passed away today at the age of 73.
Sauer, former men’s ice hockey head coach at the University of Wisconsin and 2014 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, was in his sixth season as head coach of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team.
“When you talk about positive people that genuinely care, Jeff Sauer is at the top of the list,” said Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey. “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."
“There are few like Jeff,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “He brought an infectious joy to our sport every single day. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Jamie and the entire family.”
“He always cared so much about his players,” said Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey of Sauer, who he played for collegiately at the University of Wisconsin. “Our sport at all levels benefited from Jeff’s unending passion and commitment.”
“Coach Sauer will be dearly missed by all those who were fortunate to have known him,” said Dan Brennan, director of inline and sled hockey for USA Hockey and general manager of the 2016-17 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. “He was a great coach who always made hockey fun and he treated everyone in the game and in life as his equal. Our national sled hockey players loved him as did so many who were fortunate to play for him and coach at his side. Our great game lost a genuine legend today.”
Born in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, on March 10, 1943, Sauer grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota before attending Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 1961-65. After three seasons as a varsity men’s ice hockey player for the Tigers, Sauer graduated and signed on as an assistant coach under Bob Johnson for the 1965-66 season. The following year, Sauer followed coach Johnson to the University of Wisconsin where he served as an assistant coach for four seasons (1966-71).
In 1971, Coach Sauer returned to Colorado Springs as head coach of his alma mater. In his 11 seasons behind the Tigers bench, Sauer was twice named Western Collegiate Hockey Association Coach of the Year (1972, 1975) and in 1978 led the Tigers to an upset over the University of Denver for a share of the only conference tournament title in school history.
Sauer then returned to the University of Wisconsin in 1982 and found immediate success as he led the Badgers to the WHCA Tournament Championship and NCAA Division I national championship in 1983. In total, Sauer’s 20 seasons at Wisconsin saw the Badgers produce four 30-win seasons, three NCAA Men’s Frozen Four appearances, 12 NCAA tournament berths, two WCHA regular-season crowns, five WCHA playoff titles and two national championships. Overall, Sauer’s 31-year NCAA Division I college coaching career featured 655 wins (seventh all-time).
Sauer also coached a wide array of U.S. teams during and after his college coaching career. He was the head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 1995 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden, and at the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle, Washington. He also led the U.S. Men’s Select Team at the 1989 Pravda Cup in Leningrad, Soviet Union, and at the 1997 Tampere Cup in Tampere, Finland.
In 2011, Sauer was named head coach of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. In his six seasons at the helm, Team USA registered a 48-5-2-11 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record that included reaching the championship game of every major international competition and titles in seven major international events. The team’s most recent victory came at the 2016 (Dec.) World Sled Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and marked the sixth straight international championship, a streak that began at the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. In total, Sauer led Team USA to championships at the 2012 International Paralympic Committee Sled Hockey World Championship in Hamar, Norway; the 2012 World Sled Hockey Challenge in Calgary, Alberta; the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia; the 2015 World Sled Hockey Challenge in Leduc, Alberta; the 2015 IPC Sled Hockey World Championship in Buffalo, New York; the 2016 (Jan.) World Sled Hockey Challenge in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia; and the 2016 (Dec.) World Sled Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
A member of USA Hockey’s International Council and Disabled Hockey Committee, Sauer was president of the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association. In addition, he helped select the last six U.S. Deaflympic Ice Hockey Teams while leading the team as head coach in the last four Winter Deaflympics. Most recently, he guided the U.S. Deaflympic squad to a bronze-medal finish at the 2015 Winter Deaflympics in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. He also guided the U.S. Deaflympic squad to a gold medal at the 2007 Winter Deaflympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In over 40 years coaching hockey, Sauer has had nothing but success in his varied endeavors. He has been honored with USA Hockey’s Distinguished Achievement Award (2000), the American Hockey Coaches Association’s John “Snooks” Kelly Founders Award (2004) and the NHL’s Lester Patrick Trophy (2011). He has also been inducted into the Wisconsin Hall of Fame, Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado College Athletic Hall of Fame.