Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This One is Personal

I love doing what I do because even as I get ready to turn 50, these prospects teach me lessons in life that we take for granted. They are the best reason to remain a Ranger fan and stories like this one make it even better.

When I was first getting started covering the Ranger prospects, it was a pretty easy job as all I had to do was head to Portland, Oregon and see 2 of the better Ranger prospects play against their fellow Ranger prospects.

In 2005, it was Brandon Dubinsky and Michael Sauer playing for the Portland Winterhawks, Dubinsky was the leading scorer, the popular player with all the fans. Sauer was the defender but in my eyes he was the heart and soul of that team.

Sauer should have been a first round pick in 2005, if not for a very badly injured hip then the Rangers do not get to draft him in the second round. I once wrote that I thought Sauer was the best defensive Ranger prospect, even better than Marc Staal.

Staal is the better all around defenseman but I wanted Sauer on the ice in the last minute of a game protecting a one goal lead. Sauer is a smaller Jeff Beukeboom, pure defensive, stronger than an ox and protector of his teammates.

I hardly knew him in the 2004-05 season because of the hip injury but after the Rangers drafted him, I became one of his biggest admirers. I got to talk to "Quags" a lot because while postgame while others were showering and making postgame plans, Quags would being riding a stationary bike or lifting weights.

I got to watch Sauer rehab as we talked about his life, his family (brother Kurt plays for the Avs and brother Craig played in the Super Bowl) and of course his dreams. Sauer never once felt sorry for himself but always had this maddening positive outlook on life. Sauer always said that he would make it to the NHL.

It was about faith for Sauer as his belief in God helped him overcome all the naysayers who wrote him off as injury prone.

In 2006, when people were thinking that Sauer was suffering from concussion issues, he called me to tell me what he and his family believed was wrong with him. It was the closest I had ever seen him as angry and it turned out he was right as his neck and head was out of alignment.

It cost him a chance to play for Team USA in the World Juniors that season but Sauer did not complain about it.

2006 was the best and worst of times for Sauer as he was the only real player on the Winterhawks and tried his best to carry that team on his back. It was hard to watch him playing 30+ minutes a night when he had no support but Sauer remained determined to will the Winterhawks to win.

For the sake of his career, the Winterhawks traded Sauer to Medicine Hat and Sauer got to cut 10 minutes a night off how much he had to play a night. Even better for Sauer was that he got to win a WHL Championship with the Tigers and was just one goal from winning a Memorial Cup Championship.

We talked after the season as it was time for him to head for Hartford for me a last chance to cover him as a prospect. Sauer talked about getting a chance to play for the Rangers but he struggled as a rookie professional.

As crazy as it sounds when I heard that Sauer had torn his ACL, I knew he was going to become a Ranger. He had a new cause to work his backside off for but this soon is not what I thought possible.

You want a scouting report on Sauer then it is simple. Sauer is a strong focused player who values his positioning. His on ice vision helps him make up for not being the fastest skater on the ice as he plays the angles very well.

Sauer is a clean player who will hit you hard with a clean intent to it just as Beuk used to. Sauer is not a big scorer but when he does fire his shot, it is a strong laser that stays low and ideal for deflections.

Ranger fans will like Sauer because he is in fact responsible on the blueline, you will like how Sauer does not panic and will not make those risky passes that certain defenders on the Rangers do all the time.

Sauer would rather take a hit than make a bad play if it means not taking a turnover. Sauer will block shots (sometimes too willing to throw his body at the puck) and find a way to get the puck safely out of his defensive zone.

If Sauer has a weak spot it would be that he is a game fighter but slow hands lead him to lose more fights than win. He will jump anyone who tries to run a smaller teammate even if he takes a beating but that is part of why you will like him.

But I will say this much, if the Rangers tell people that Sauer is just up while Rozsival is out injured then I would not bet against Sauer forcing his way into staying with the Rangers.

All you have to do is count Sauer out and he will prove you wrong.

(Sauer picture courtesy of the Portland Winterhawks/WHL)

1 comment:

Nat Loh said...

oh yeah, he's not sticking with this team. too many cards stacked against him ;)