Jeff Sauer, currently in his 30th season as a collegiate coach, announced his retirement as Badger head coach following the season. He began his career as a 23-year-old assistant coach at Colorado College. Sauer then spent 11 years as head coach at Colorado College before moving on to Wisconsin and taking the head coaching position.
During his tenure, Sauer has put up many impressive numbers and holds numerous records. He currently stands fourth on the all-time collegiate hockey wins list with 649 career victories, 483 of those as a Badger. No other Wisconsin athletic coach has matched that success.
With Sauer as head coach, the Badgers have finished in the top three in the WCHA 14 times and won the league title twice, in 1990 and 2000. Sauer also won a national championship in his first season at Wisconsin; he is the only collegiate hockey coach to be able to do so in their first season with a new program. He earned his second national title during the 1989-90 season, winning an incredible 36 games in a single season, and is one of just two current WCHA coaches to have won two national titles.
Aside from heading a tremendous program that produced winning teams, Sauer has coached 17 All-Americans, and an astounding 13 former Badgers have participated in Olympic competition.
Some of the best players in the NHL have played for coach Sauer, including standouts like Detroit’s Chris Chelios, Toronto’s Curtis Joseph, New York Ranger Mike Richter, Colorado’s Steve Reinprecht, New Jersey’s Brian Rafalski and Atlanta’s Dany Heatley.
Despite the midseason announcement of his retirement, Sauer will be staying on to finish out the season and his coaching career and has expressed a desire to continue his relationship with the University of Wisconsin and the hockey program in some capacity.
With the second half of the season remaining for the Badgers, Sauer will be making his final playoff push, but he is adamant that the news of his retirement not be a detriment to the team for the remainder of the year.
“I don’t think there will be any problem. I’m as competitive as there can be. We’ve got a lot of hockey to play. We want to get this team to the Final Five in St. Paul,” said Sauer.
“We’re going to have to win our way into the NCAA tournament unless we win the rest of our games in league play, so there’s a lot to look forward to, and as far as me personally, [my retirement] is behind us now — just go out and get the team as well prepared as we possibly can to play on a week-to-week basis.”
Sauer hopes he can get this year’s Badger team to peak at the right time, something that past Sauer-coached squads have been noted for. In his career, Sauer’s teams have averaged an astounding 25 victories per year, and as a result, Wisconsin teams have earned tournament bids in 11 of the last 14 years. Once in the postseason, Sauer owns a 69-36-2 mark.
While Sauer is known as the coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, his coaching exploits go further than Madison. In 1990, Sauer served as head coach of Team USA at the Goodwill games and was also victorious in a game against the USSR National Team. Sauer was an assistant on the 1992 team that competed in the World Championship in Prague. Finally, in 1995 Sauer was chosen as the head coach of the U.S. National Team that competed in Sweden. His team finished first in their group before losing in the medal round to Canada.
When Sauer steps down at the end of this season, not only Wisconsin, but all of collegiate hockey will be losing one of its finest individuals and representatives of the game. Among active coaches, Sauer is second only to Rob Mason of Michigan State in wins. It will not be easy for Sauer to leave the game totally behind — he has meant too much to it.
For now, Sauer continues coaching. He has added two more victories since announcing his retirement, and he admits that the enormity of his retirement has not sunk in yet.
“It will take a while, I think. I’m trying to deal with the idea of walking to the rink and not being responsible,” said Sauer. “That’s going to come down the road. It’s going to take a while, emotionally.”