Congratulations are in order for Wisconsin Badgers greats Jeff Sauer and Mark Johnson who were honored in St. Paul last night by the NHL and USA Hockey as recipients of the Lester Patrick Award for their service to the game in the U.S.

The contributions these two men have made to the sport, particularly on the collegiate and national levels, have only helped to grow both men’s and women’s hockey in this country.

They, and fellow honorees Toni Rossi and Bob Pulford, were made available to the media prior to the event and both men shared their opinion of the sweeping changes to take effect in college hockey in two years.

Though their passion for the Badgers, college hockey, and USA Hockey is similar, their thoughts on the recent evolution of college hockey are not.

Let’s begin with Johnson’s take.

“I remember my freshman year, which was a long time ago, at Wisconsin and the league looked different at that time,’ said Johnson. “You had Michigan, you had Michigan State, you had Notre Dame in the WCHA at that time and my freshman year we played Michigan seven times and ended up winning a national championship.

“The league changed several years after that, it’s now changing again, and I think the scary part, or the uncertainty of the whole situation, is what are the leagues going to look like and what’s the growth going to be like in the next four to five years as these leagues start to take shape and they start playing each other? But you look around college hockey, you look around at the fan base at the different programs, you look around at the passion that a lot of the coaches have working with these players and, when the dust is all settled, I think college hockey will be fine.”

Sauer, on the other hand, admitted to being “old school” and relayed a far more pessimistic view on the subject.

“One thing that we, as old school [hockey people], have done over the course of time is protected one another,” said Sauer. “I’ll be very up front and honest; 15 years ago if Mike Sertich, Gino Gasparini, Jeff Sauer were still coaching and having programs, I don’t think this would have happened.

“I think we would have tried to protect college hockey, we always have. Amo Bessone (Michigan State, 1948 to 1979), Al Renfrew (Michigan, 1957 to 1953), all of those guys, John Mariucci (Minnesota, 1952-1966), protected me as a young coach and kept our programs going. It’s going to have a major change, not so much on the teams at the top, but some of the teams on the bottom. It will be a major blow to them.”

Sauer said the best thing about hockey is that it is a small community in which most people know each other.

“I can name 50 names to Mark, Bob Pulford, or Tony [Rossi] and they know 49 of them and that’s what’s great about hockey, it’s not like that in other sport especially at the college level.”

But Sauer nonetheless feels the sting of what he believes is the demise of the WCHA as he knows it.

“I’m disappointed more in how it happened and the fact that I think if we would have stuck together we would have achieved the same type of success and continued it,” said Sauer. “But the WCHA’s 60 years of history all of a sudden, in one swell swoop, is gone and it’s going to be tough to brand and all of that type of stuff is going to be tough to replace.”

  • Guest

    Sauer’s right on!

  • Oxygen Sensor

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  • guest2

    Agree 100%. 

  • Phoenixfyre1313

    I don’t know that those older coaches would have any more power to stop this than the current ones do/did.  It wasn’t a coaches decision.  It was more the Big 10 forcing the ADs of the Big 10 schools to comply, if they wanted to stay in the Big 10 for other sports and as much as we all hate it, it comes down to money and keeping all the other revenue generating sports is more a consideration for the school as opposed to keeping the WCHA together or for what might be best for college hockey.  It is sad, but the fact is hockey is way down on the list as far as priorities, even in a place like Minnesota where hockey is far and away the sport that they have had the most success in.

  • Fast Walk to Fresno

    Yes, we all agree that it was the Big Ten that forced this down the member AD’s throats, and that the coaches had no say. The strangest thing about this whole Big Ten thing is, why the hell does the Big Ten care about college hockey? There’s very little money to be made on it. Everyone I’ve discussed this with said, “it’s all about the Big Ten Network and wanting the hockey games on there.” What? How can that be possible? First, college hockey is not exactly an advertising magnet. Second, when exactly are they planning on airing these games? Once college basketball season starts (which is only a few weeks after hockey), there is complete overlap in the days/times of the games. So, why would the BTN choose to air a college hockey game over a college basketball game when all the advertisers know that the latter has significantly better ratings? Note, I’m talking about national ratings, not local ratings, but national ratings would be all the BTN could care about in terms of why they want to add college hockey to their programming. 

    So, someone explain this to me. How exactly does the Big Ten Conference or BTN benefit from this monetarily?

  • Wayne

    What I will always remember most about Sauer, in a negative vein, is the number of UW games I saw while following WCHA hockey where his players intentionally went to the head/neck of opponents to finish a check.  It happened way too often for it not to have been coached.  Former UW player and NHL-er Sean Hill many years ago ended the hockey career of a promising Denver player named Mike Aikens in a play that unfolded right in front me, perhaps early 1990’s or thereabouts.  Unfortunately, a part of what Mr. Sauer brought to the college game and a part of his enduring legacy, successful W-L record notwithstanding.

  • Burketim444

    As a MN fan I’m glad to be in a different league than N Dakota. I admire their team
    but the fan base makes the game an ugly experience. I just go to games to cheer on my team and hope for a good game. They can make it very personal. I’ve had many ND fans scream in my face and I’ve never made a comment back. All for just wearing
    a Gophers jersey. What happened to sportsmanship?

  • Nicole

    Sounded more to me like Sauer was talking about Alabama-Huntsville. He specifically says something about keeping programs running.

  • tom hewitt

    What does a college education have to do with some young fellows playing hockey anyway?  Why should I care if the players on two teams in a game are enrolled as students in some particular university?  Is it critical to my enjoyment of a hockey game that the participants be wearing uniforms that represent some school when the players themselves would probably be happy to be playing on either team?  Ice hockey is a great sport that doesn’t require an affiliation with hypocritical educational organizations.  I’ll go to junior games.