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6B - Faceoff - October 11, 2006 - The Michigan Daily
Faceoff - October 11, 2006 - The Michigan Daily - 3B
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A look ahead to the 2006-07 CCHA season By Ian Robinson, Daily Sports Writer
By Nate Sandals ( Daily Sports Writer
It's 5 p.m. and practice is winding down.
for Michigan. The coaches have left the ice
and the real fun is about to begin.
A crowd gathers around the goal closest
to the Wolverine locker room. T.J. Hensick,
Andrew Cogliano, Chad Kolarik - the
team's top goal scorers - and others form
a semi-circle around the net. At the center
of this offensive juggernaut, confined to his
blue crease, is Billy Sauer.
For the next 15 minutes, Sauer faces shot
after shot, rebound attempt after rebound
attempt and joke after joke. Despite the
relentless barrage, he has fun. He laughs and
yells with his teammates, and argues about
whether or not shots crossed the goal line.
At one point, Cogliano is sent to the bench
for missing an open net. Later, Hensick
throws down his stick and pounds his fists
on the glass in playful frustration.
All the while, Sauer proves he's ready to
be the Wolverines' No. I goalie this season.
Following a summer of hard work, Sauer is
more experienced and more confident than
he was last year. He is certain that will make
all the difference.
First in line
"Billy Sauer is our starting goalkeeper,"
Michigan coach Red Berenson said at CCHA
Media Day in late September.
A week later, the veteran coach qualified
his statement: "Billy Sauer's coming into the
season, he's our most experienced goalie, he
should be our starting goalie and then we'll
go from there."
Just like that, the competition was gone.
The fight was called before the opening bell
rang. Sauer holds the title, and he likes it.
Coming off a season in which he battled
hard to keep the starting goalie job from
then-senior Noah Ruden, Sauer said he's
happy to have some job security.
"It's nice not having to look over
your shoulder," Sauer said. "Just
knowing that I can get into the
net and do my own thing and not
really have to worry about too
many other people, it definitely
Sauer's increased relaxation
on the ice is clear to his team- -
"There's a lot less pres-
sure on him," senior captain
Matt Hunwick said. "He's not.
really competing for a job. He
knows that the No. 1 role is going to be his.
At the same time, he's ready for that this sea-
son, he's ready to step up to the challenge."
Sauer is self-assured, and it shows in his
play on the ice. Asked about Sauer's play fol-
lowing Michigan's 10-2 exhibition victory
over Waterloo last Friday, senior forward T.J.
Hensick stressed the importance of poise in
"(Sauer's) confident in himself, and we're
confident in him," Hensick said.
Confidence was hard to come by last year,
when Sauer overworked himself and strug-
gled both physically and mentally.
Weight on his shoulders
Sauer arrived in Ann Arbor last year
when he was 17. The Walworth, NY., native
accelerated his way through high school so
he could be on the Michigan roster for the
2005-06 season. No one doubted his talent,
but it was clear both on and off the ice that he
still had some growing up to do.
"Last year he was only 17;" sophomore
"Coming in to be the starter at the University
of Michigan is a lot to rest on your shoulders
Looking back, even Sauer acknowledged
he might not have been ready for the pres-
sures of being a college athlete, let alone a
"Coming as a 17-year-old freshman and
only playing one year of juniors when a lot
of guys spent two or three years usually
was tough;' Sauer said. "There were a lot of
social adjustments that I had to make. Com-
ing in and trying to fit in as a 17 year old
when you're playing with a lot of guys that
are 23-24ish, it can be tough."
Some of Sauer's struggles came from not
understanding his role on the team. He was
talented, arguably more than any goalie on
the roster. But Ruden had more experience
and had bided his time behind Al Montoya
for three seasons. He thought it was his time
Unfortunately for Ruden, Sauer was the
better goalie in preseason practices and
began the season as the starter.
Sauer played well in the early games,
going 7-2-1 in his first 10 appearances.
But his play faltered in the second
half of the season, and Ruden start-
ed 12 of the final 14 games.
"It's nice to always battle because
you make each other better," Sauer
recalled. "But at the same time it can be
kind of stressful, too."
When asked how Ruden helped his
game, Sauer's "no comment" is an icy
testament to their strained relationship.
In the summer leading up to his fresh-
man year, Sauer worked tirelessly to get in
shape. By the middle of the season he was
worn down. Once that happened, it was dif-
ficult for Sauer to get back in the groove
and feel comfortable in goal.
"I almost worked too hard
coming into the summer, and"
I think it kind of hurt
me at times," Sauer
or five hours a day. I was working out and
everything. It really kind of killed me as far
as physically and mentally."
Sauer wanted to please everyone on the
team, too. In the process, he saw his game
struggle and had difficulty fitting in as a
member of the team.
The freshman was timid with his team-
mates and his coaches, often afraid to say
the wrong thing or act the wrong way. As
a result, more often than not, Sauer bit his
Sauer had a difficult time last season, but
he knows the experience will only serve to
make him a better goalie in the long run.
"Everybody tells you that having a year
under your belt is going to help you a lot
more;' Sauer said. "But I think once you go
through it, you really do realize that coming
in here that year of experience, just knowing
what to expect each time you step onto the
ice, is a huge advantage from last year."
Back to basics
The feel- ing is unanimous in the Michi-
gan locker room - this is a
"He's a lot more com-
fortable this season than
he was last year," Hun-
Sauer is certain of
his improvement. At
the end of last season,
he knew there were
aspects of his game
that needed to be
over the summer,
he worked with
how to self-assess
myself;' Sauer said.
"This year instead of fall-
ing into bad habits like I did
last year, I'm going to be able to
stay more consistent."
Working with Fioravanti
at the Maksymum Hockey
Camp in Rochester, NY.,
Sauer didn't just focus on
his -own game. Healso
had the chance to teach
The CCHA released its preseason
poll a couple of weeks ago. The
USA Today/USA Hockey Mag-
azine released theirs last week. This
can only mean one thing: It's time for
The Michigan Daily to weigh in on
You don't need to be Marty McFly
to know where these teams will
MICHIGAN STATE: According to
Bursley Residence Hall T-shirts, size
But Michigan State sophomore
goalie Jeff Lerg proves that it really
doesn't. The 5-foot-6, 155-pound
Lerg led the Spartans to their first
Mason Cup championship since
2001 Hobey Baker Award winner
Ryan Miller stood between the pipes.
Lerg also had the second lowest goals
against average in the CCHA and
tied for the highest save percentage in
Michigan State coach Rick Com-
ley could put a high school team in
front of Lerg, and the Spartans might
still finish in the top half of the con-
ference. Michigan State has talent
at all positions, with preseason All-
CCHA second-teamer Tyler Howells
anchoring the blue line and Bryan
Lerg, Jeff's cousin, and sophomore
Tim Crowder up front.
If Lerg can stay healthy, the Spar-
tans could be national-championship
MIAMI (OH): Although this season
marks a new era in RedHawk hock-
ey with the opening of Steve Cady
Arena, expect more of the same from
the defending CCHA regular-season
champions. Miami lost All-Ameri-
can defenseman Andy Greene, but
it returns two of the top three goalies
in the CCHA in Charlie Effinger and
Jeff Zatkoff and seven of its top nine
Whether or not Miami can repeat
depends on how it responds to losing
Greene, last year's CCHA offensive
and defensive player of the year.
You would need a DeLorean
with a flux capacitor to find
out where these teams finish:
NORTHERN MICHIGAN: Wildcat
fans will spend more than a few
games learning the new names on
the roster. Northern Michigan coach
Walt Kyle brought in 12 freshmen to
replace the eight departing seniors.
"We still have eight seniors, and
we're banking a lot of what we hope
PHOTOS BY RODRIGO GAYA, PETER SCHOTTENFELS AND FILE PHOTO/Daily
Clockwise from left: Miami goalie Jeff Zatkoff, Michigan State goalie Jeff
Lerg and Nebraska-Omaha forward Scott Parse, three of the top players in
can be a successful season on their
ability to rise in and fill the roles of
the people that left prior to them;'
What this team lacks in experi-
ence, it makes up for in talent. Nine
current Wildcats have been drafted
by NHL teams, a total second only
to Michigan in the CCHA.
Combining this talent with Kyle's
winning history - he has reached
the CCHA Super Six in each of his
first four years in Marquette - the
Wildcats should return to both the
CCHA and NCAA Tournaments.
OHIO STATE: After opening last
season as the preseason pick to win
the CCHA, the Buckeyes finished
10th, missing out on the NCAA
Tournament for the first time in four
years. For Ohio State to return to
its form of two years ago (when it
finished second in the conference),
junior Tom Fritsche will have to find
the magic that earned him CCHA
Rookie of the Year honors that sea-
son. Fritsche scored 45 points his
first season but just 30 last year.
The Buckeyes are the only CCHA
team without an experienced goalie.
Freshmen Nick Filion and Joseph
Palmer will split time in goal to
NEBRASKA-OMAHA: The Maver-
icks are the only CCHA team that
boasts a returning All-American,
with forward Scott Parse coming
back for his senior campaign. He's
already the program's all-time leader
in points, and he has been named the
team MVP in each of his first three
Coming off the program's first trip
to the NCAA Tournament, a return
trip will depend on how respond to
losing Parse's former line mate, Bill
Thomas, to the NHL.
It's been quite a year for Maverick
goalie Jerad Kaufman. Last October,
he was a third-string walk-on. By
March, he was starting every game
for the tournament-bound Maver-
icks. Now he enters the season as
the incumbent starter with dreams of
reaching the tournament once again.
FERRIS STATE: "I guarantee there
will be a couple of teams that emerge
and surprise some people;" said Fer-
ris State head coach Bob Daniels of
the CCHA's unpredictability.
Maybe he was talking about his
The Bulldogs return nine of their
top 10 scorers from last season,
defenseman Adam Welch is back for
his second year as the captain and
goalie Mitch O'Keefe will stand in
net for his second year.
However, the conference schedule
does thetBulldogs nofavors.Although
they have CCHA preseason doormat
Western Michigan in their cluster
and play them four times, they also
have four games against both the
Spartans and Wolverines.
ALASKA: After eliminating Fair-
banks from the end of its name, the
Nanooks will also try to get rid of
their offensive woes this season. They
scored the second fewest goals of any
team in the CCHA.
"Up front, it's no secret: We've
struggled to score goals" Alaska
coach Tavis MacMillan said. "It's
something we need to get better at,
and we feel we have the right kids,
and better yet, we feel we can put
them in better places to succeed this
When he said "kids;' he chose that
word carefully. He hopes that highly
touted 17-year-old freshman Dion
Knelsen will help solve Alaska's
NOTRE DAME: The Irish posted the
second-largest point improvement
(+15) of any team in the CCHA last
year and moved up four spots in the
See CCHA, page 8B