At CCHA Media Day, Michigan coach Red Berenson said the team’s starting goalie job for opening day was wide open.
Two weeks later, junior Billy Sauer has emerged as the hands-down choice to fill that role.
But Sauer’s newly solidified starting spot between the pipes isn’t just because of his play.
No. 10 Michigan’s other two goalies, freshmen Bryan Hogan and Shawn Hunwick, have both been sidelined with illness.
Hunwick will dress for Friday’s game against No. 2 Boston College in the Ice Breaker Invitational, but he hasn’t practiced all week and sat for both the Blue-White Scrimmage and an exhibition game against Western Ontario last weekend.
Hogan, who has mononucleosis, is listed as week-to-week by Berenson and will not make the trip to Minneapolis.
With depth problems in the net, the Wolverines had to pull up netminders from the club team just to field a squad last weekend. If Sauer gets hurt, a club teamer may have to be called up for the regular season, which would take his club team eligibility away for the rest of his college career, no matter how much, if any, ice time he actually gets with the varsity squad.
For Berenson, there are always other options.
“We also have the option to certify a goalie who isn’t on the club team, just a regular student – could be your roommate who played goal sometime,” Berenson said. “But I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to make a mockery of the situation, and I don’t want to hurt the club team by doing that. But if the situation emerged where it was an emergency and that player might have to play, we might have to consider that.”
Last weekend, Sauer looked inconsistent, allowing six goals in the Blue-White Scrimmage, but he recouped Sunday to hold Western Ontario to just one goal on 17 shots.
But the Walworth, N.Y., native had plenty of time on the ice this week to work out any kinks in his system. With just one varsity goalie available to practice, Michigan needed Sauer on the ice as much as possible. He and a club teamer have practiced all week for Michigan.
And although Sauer admitted the added practice time is tiring, he said it will help his endurance in games.
“I think (the added practice) has been good for him,” Berenson said. “I think only having two goalies on the ice is good for the goalies. They get more shots in more situations, so it’s good for them.”
Volunteer goalie coach Josh Blackburn, a four-year starting goalie at Michigan from 1999-2002, has worked tirelessly with all three goalies to make sure they are ready for the season. His presence is greatly appreciated by Berenson, who has relied on goalie coaches who could rarely make it to games, let alone practices in seasons prior.
While Blackburn watches video with Hogan and Hunwick to keep their hockey minds sharp without being on the ice, his objective is obviously to get Sauer ready to play this weekend.
“We watched the video, and our biggest concern is just making sure Billy is playing out of the net at proper depth,” Blackburn said. “You know, beating the rush, finding the forwards, not just stare at the puck and making sure he knows where the other forwards and defensemen are so he can get a head start on the push.”
Sauer, who faced the Eagles in Yost Ice Arena in one of his first-ever starts for the Wolverines, will need no extra motivation when he skates out to the net on Friday.
“That (Boston College game) was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in,” Sauer said. “The crowd was electric, so I’m really looking forward to that again.”