DETROIT – The story used to be how, this year, Michigan goalie Billy Sauer has begun to move away from the unpredictability that dictated his first two years in net.
But halfway through the season, Sauer’s consistency is no longer a surprise.
He’s just that good.
It didn’t matter that Sauer’s 87 saves and two shutouts in the Great Lakes Invitational last weekend were against two teams without winning records.
At the end of it all, it was Sauer’s name the Joe Louis Arena crowd of more than 17,000 chanted.
It was Sauer who was named tournament MVP following a game in which he gave Michigan a chance to win after 80 scoreless minutes.
As a freshman, Sauer surrendered seven goals in two GLI games. The following year, he gave up five.
But this season, Sauer’s career-best shutout streak is still running at 166 minutes and 7 seconds following Saturday’s 1-0 double-overtime win against Michigan Tech. He hasn’t allowed a goal since the second period against Bowling Green on Dec. 7, and Sauer’s streak surpasses his previous best of 128 minutes and 30 seconds, set in early November.
In his first shutout of the weekend, when Michigan beat Providence 6-0 and Sauer stopped a career-high 50 shots, he made it sound like the game was more of a statistics-padder.
“It was one of the easier nights that I’ve had to play,” Sauer said after Friday’s win. “I definitely thought I played solid, but I didn’t get tested a whole lot.”
But Saturday, with Michigan surrounded by the stigma of losing six straight GLI title games, Sauer pulled out another shutout.
“It may not be the toughest game I have ever played in, but it was probably one of the most important,” Sauer said after Saturday’s game. “When you get into the fifth period and it’s a 0-0 game, every save is that much more crucial. You make one mistake, and your team is going home.”
Josh Blackburn was the last Wolverine netminder to notch back-to-back shutouts, against Lake Superior State in 2002. This year, his first as Michigan’s goalie coach, Blackburn has helped Sauer play more aggressively and mentally prepare for games.
And Sauer had some serious mental tests in the first half of the season – notably against Minnesota, a team that caused Sauer considerable trouble in the past and held a six-game winning streak against the Wolverines. Sauer allowed just one goal in a 5-1 thrashing of the Gophers in the second game of the College Hockey Showcase, which Michigan hadn’t swept since 2002.
Coupled with his double blanks in the GLI that propelled the Wolverines to their first win in the tournament since 1996, Sauer was arguably the team’s biggest factor in snapping all three losing streaks.
“When we beat Minnesota, I think it was a little more personal for me, since it’s a team I haven’t liked too much in the past,” Sauer said. “I think (in Saturday’s GLI title game win), it was more of an emotional kind of thing, just because it was such a long game and I really didn’t think it was ever going to end.”
It doesn’t look like his consistency is going to stop any time soon, either.
“When you get the goalkeeping like Billy gave us, it just makes our team that much better,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “To come out of (the GLI) with two shutouts – what can you say? That’s a terrific effort on Billy’s part.”