In a game extremely characteristic of his 31-year coaching career, UW head coach Jeff Sauer coached his final regular-season game at the Kohl Center Saturday night.
Sauer, who is retiring at season’s end, lead the Badgers to a 5-1 victory over Minnesota-Duluth, solidifying the Badgers’ fifth-place spot in the WCHA and leaving the fans of Wisconsin with exactly what he has provided during his 20 years at the university: victories.
Not only is Sauer the winningest coach in any sport in UW history, he ranks fourth on the all-time victory list in NCAA hockey with 653 career wins.
Jeff Sauer came to Wisconsin in 1982 and led the Badgers to the national title, posting a 33-10-4 record on the season. Since his coaching debut in Madison, Sauer has guided the Badgers to two NCAA titles, three Frozen Fours, 12 NCAA appearances and two league championships.
Sauer has coached 17 all-Americans in his career and 27 of his players have gone on to the NHL. Most recently, five of Sauer’s former players competed in the 2002 Olympic Games, all playing in the gold-medal game.
Upon conclusion of Saturday night’s game, the city of Madison, former and current players and the 13,300 fans in attendance all paid tribute to the coaching legend, whose tenure at UW has spanned four decades.
In an emotional series of events at center ice, Sauer received many kind words and accepted a number of retirement gifts from UW Chancellor John Wiley, athletic director Pat Richter and former player Tony Granato.
“It’s been a pleasure to represent all you fans, the students and the players,” Sauer said following the game. “I’ve really enjoyed it over the years.”
In what has not been the most successful of his 20 years with the Badgers, Sauer has managed to secure the Badgers home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs despite the devastating loss of talent brought on by graduating seniors. Coupled with the level of competition in the conference this year, this season’s fifth place finish has certainly met and exceeded all expectations put upon the Badgers in the preseason polls.
Sauer will lead the Badgers onto the ice at the Kohl Center for the final time this weekend, when the Badgers host Minnesota State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. A best-of-three series will decide who heads to Minnesota to compete in the Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
If Wisconsin hopes to make it to the NCAA playoffs for the 13th time in the Jeff Sauer era, it must win the conference playoffs and earn the automatic bid to the tournament.
Despite what transpires in the next few weeks for the UW men’s hockey team, a legend will be applauded, and the torch of the hockey program will be passed.
In his final words of the post game tribute, Sauer expressed his feelings towards his departure from the University of Wisconsin.
“It’s been a pleasure to be a part of the UW hockey tradition,” Sauer said.