Billy Sauer has been often criticized for being inconsistent.
But this weekend, he consistently made big saves against Boston University.
Sauer had a 3.31 goals against average while allowing 19 goals during last year’s 4-2 start. Going into this weekend’s first home series, Sauer had a 2.73 goals against average. After allowing just two goals per game both nights, his numbers are markedly better than at this time last year.
Statistics aside, Sauer has looked calmer and more in control of his game. He’s stuck with the puck and rarely looked confused on the ice – and his steadiness this season has been necessary with a defense composed almost entirely of freshmen.
On Friday, Boston University’s quick start and Michigan’s sluggishness meant the responsibility fell on Sauer to keep the Wolverines in the game. Sauer successfully handled the Terriers’ barrage of shots in the first period by adjusting quickly. Six minutes into the game, he fell as he blocked a Boston University shot but still made another save on the rebound. The score was 0-0 after one, despite the Terriers dominating the shots column 15-6 in the first period and 23-7 after 25 minutes of play.
His performance was good enough for the student section to start the “Billy Sauer” chant after just a little more than 20 minutes of playing at Yost Ice Arena this season.
“If Billy hadn’t had a much better than average game, then we wouldn’t be talking about a victory,” Berenson said Friday. “The whole game would have taken a different direction. He was the difference.”
Michigan’s two early goals in Saturday’s game meant Sauer was under less initial pressure to perform flawlessly. Sauer said his best save of the weekend was when he denied a Boston one-timer in the first period immediately following Michigan’s two goals, a stop that allowed Michigan to keep the momentum and two-goal lead.
And Sauer’s only glaring mistake of the weekend happened after the Wolverines had already established their dominance. About a minute and a half into the second period, Michigan was shorthanded, and Sauer left the crease to chase the puck behind the net. He sprawled out, trying to trap the puck, and Boston University forward Jason Lawrence drilled a shot on a nearly empty net to tally the team’s first goal of the game. Sauer was still on the ice.
But the goal didn’t matter. Four minutes later, Sauer was credited with an assist on freshman Carl Hagelin’s quick wrist shot off a breakaway that made it 3-1, and three unanswered Michigan goals in the first part of the third period gave Sauer more security than in the weekend’s first game.
After Saturday’s game, Boston University coach Jack Parker focused more on his team’s inadequacies than Sauer’s strong performance this weekend.
“I thought he played very well (Friday) night, and he didn’t have anything to worry about (Saturday),” Parker said. “We had a couple of opportunities, but in general, that game should’ve been 8-1, 10-1.”
And following this weekend’s strong performance, Sauer didn’t see much that he’ll need to improve before next weekend’s games at Nebraska-Omaha.
“Just trying to make things a little bit simpler, just kind of reading plays a little better,” Sauer said. “I’m battling well and I’m seeing the puck well. I just kind of have to see a few more options that I’m not really seeing right now, but that’s it.”
Sauer also allowed four goals against in last weekend’s two games against Northern Michigan – one on Friday and three on Saturday – but Berenson said Sauer responded better to this weekend’s faster pace and having to make more saves in back-to-back games.
“It was like the first period in (Friday’s game) was really the turning point in his weekend,” Berenson said. “He was rock solid. . He made a couple mistakes that cost us, but he’s given the team a lot of confidence in the last two weeks.”