Is it time?
Can Billy Sauer be trusted yet?
If there’s one thing I learned last month, it’s that Billy Sauer really can dazzle between the pipes. He can make those huge, momentum-swinging saves. He can withstand incredible amounts of pressure while in the crease.
But he’s tricked us before – and I don’t want to be tricked again.
Back in November, in the midst of a seven-game win streak, I think we all hopped on the Billy Sauer bandwagon.
The sophomore goaltender was playing the best hockey of his career, confidence oozing out of every glove save and puck kicked away.
Finally, we all thought. Here is the goaltender Michigan recruited. This is the maturity we’ve been waiting for, the talent we heard so much about.
Enter then-No. 1 Minnesota, scoring five goals in the third period and eight overall.
Enter six goals on 18 shots in a loss to unranked Western Michigan the next weekend.
Enter Sauer getting pulled for the first time all season after allowing five goals on 16 shots against then-No. 5 Notre Dame.
Enter the Sauer supporters, eating their words.
Michigan fans have been waiting for what used to be the hallmark of the program: a consistently successful starting goaltender. They had that for four years in Steve Shields, Marty Turco and Josh Blackburn and three years in Al Montoya.
Then along came Sauer. The Walworth,
N.Y., native had a lot of buzz around him, but he was also in Ann Arbor a year too soon, thanks to Montoya’s early departure.
Sauer fought against his age and the pressure to fill Montoya’s skates, only to put up lackluster numbers and lose his starting role midway through last season to senior Noah Ruden.
This wasn’t Michigan goaltending at all.
Now with Sauer in his sophomore season, everyone’s still waiting for a Turco or a Shields.
Is Sauer ready to be that netminder yet?
I don’t know. It seemed possible at the beginning of the season, with Sauer confident and safe in his starting role. It seemed even more likely in November when he was unstoppable.
But we all know what happened after that.
Sauer’s been a new goalie in the new year. He put aside the disappointing first half of the season and returned as a more dependable netminder.
He made saves most thought he couldn’t make. Even in the team’s lone blemish of 2007, a 2-1 loss to lowly Northern Michigan, Sauer shined.
Each game in the second stretch has been a statement for Sauer. He’s going in the right direction.
But how does he avoid another Minnesota-like detour?
“That’s a good question,” Michigan
coach Red Berenson said. “Your season is not always perfect. There’s going to be setbacks, and it’s how you handle them. I can’t protect him from that. . I can’t tell you that he couldn’t be devastated again. But I think he’s stronger. He’s got a little more experience now. I’d be surprised if that happened again.”
Berenson has proved his trust in Sauer all season. The coach was adamant about identifying Sauer as the starting goaltender from day one. Already surpassing totals from last season, Sauer leads all NCAA goaltenders
in minutes and games played.
So if Sauer is playing more than the top goaltenders in the nation, maturing and growing more confident by the day and has a hockey coaching legend trusting him to carry the team, then what are we waiting for? Why don’t we all hop on the Sauer bandwagon again?
I don’t know. But I just can’t do it yet.
– Colvin can be reached at email@example.com.