I was a young guy working at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, trying to find my way in the sports industry. Working at the OTC exposed me to different sports while working with great people in an active community. I was ultimately a hockey guy at heart and, during this time, felt disconnected from the game that had consumed a huge portion of my life. Hockey programs didn’t come to the OTC very often. When the Deaflympic team came to Colorado Springs to train in winter of 2007, the program was naturally handed to me. In my role, I managed all details of their camp such as meals, transportation, venues and more; basically serving as their OTC host while on-campus. Although the Deaflympics were new to me, I immediately recognized the name of the team’s Head Coach, Jeff Sauer.
When the team arrived, I introduced myself to Coach Sauer and what I thought would be a brief introduction turned into 20 minutes of hockey talk about my background, the Deaflympic team, his ambitious plans for the camp and more. Within minutes Coach Sauer had invited me to help on the ice during practices. During the team’s stay I was fortunate to push pucks for Coach, get to know some of the players and enjoy lunches with the coaching staff. Coach Sauer was in his element; talking hockey and telling stories in his larger-than-life fashion. During one of our lunches, Coach invited to attend a Colorado Avalanche game with the team. I don’t think invited is the correct term as I think he insisted! We arrived early to the Pepsi Center and were greeted by one of Coach’s former players, Tony Granato, then working for the Avalanche. During the 2nd intermission, the team was welcomed to the ice to a standing ovation. It was a once-in-lifetime moment that left these players overwhelmed.
During that week, I was awestruck at this man. A giant in the hockey world but as humble and unassuming a person I’ve ever met. Far from the stereotypical Type-A control freak we often expect, he struck as a coach whose on-ice abilities were greatly overshadowed by his character, charisma and class. This was no easy feat considering he had coached elite players at some of the highest levels! I’ve always cherished the memories from that week. Coach Sauer didn’t have to do any of these things but went out of his way repeatedly to involve me in their team activities. He was an amazing example of everything great about hockey and, even more impressive, a model of how to treat people with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Fact is, he gave people like me far more than he ever knew.
A few years later, I started working with USA Hockey and was fortunate to see Coach a few times a year at minimum. Whether our paths crossed in Lake Placid, Orlando, Colorado Springs, Grand Rapids or any other rink or hotel bar, I’d try to spend as much time as I could around him. I always felt like a better person from just being in his presence. A few years ago, I was at a coaching clinic in Las Vegas. My wife (Ashley) had tagged along and we were staying about a half-mile off the strip. After the clinic wrapped up on Saturday, we were planning to find a restaurant and maybe gamble a little. On our way out of the hotel, we stopped by the bar and found Coach Sauer. We sat down and ended up parked there for about 3 hours. This was Ashley’s first encounter with Coach and she came away equally impressed by his charismatic personality and welcoming demeanor.
In the ensuing years, each time I saw Coach Sauer the first two questions he would pose were 1.) “How is Ashley?” and 2.) “Did you ride your bike here?”
He knew of our affinity for cycling and triathlon and always wanted to know about our next race or riding adventure. Without hockey, I never would have met Coach Sauer. I was privileged to know him well enough where we could chat about our great game but it was never a priority. Rest in Peace Coach Sauer!