Jeff Sauer has spent his life around a hockey rink. His father was a hockey coach, and Jeff stepped onto the ice for the first time when he was 4 years old. He played high school hockey, and was given a scholarship to play hockey at Colorado College in 1962.
He went on to coach at CC for 11 seasons, with 166 wins (including a memorable 23-16-0 season in 1974-75). Jeff coached college hockey for more than 30 years, until he retired after the 2001-2002 season from the University of Wisconsin as the fourth-winningest coach in college hockey history.
But retirement didn’t mean Jeff stepped away from the ice. He has not only kept his spot rink-side, but also found a way to make his favorite sport even more exciting.
Jeff is the head coach for the USA Sled Hockey Team that competed at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games held in Sochi, Russia, March 7-16. The sport debuted at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, and fans fell in love with it. In sled hockey, players sit on double-blade sleds that allow them to pass the puck beneath them. They use two sticks with spike ends for pushing off and blade ends for shooting. The result, Jeff said, “is a very physical game.”
“This is a hockey game on sleds,” he said. “The first thing you’ll say to yourself when you watch these guys is ‘how the heck do they do that?’ It’s not as fast, but it’s a very physical game. There is checking just like in normal hockey. These guys are propelling themselves around the ice with their arms. The only thing they can’t do is skate backwards. But they can stick handle and shoot the puck with both hands.”
Jeff heaps praise on his team, which includes four military veterans. “Three of the four lost their limbs in Afghanistan or Iraq. They had all played hockey before and they have an understanding of the game.”
But there were challenges, he admitted. “With their disabilities, they had to learn it all over again.”
Jeff said that coaching the sled team has rejuvenated him. “I’ve always loved coaching because it allows me to watch athletes develop — not only on the ice or in their athletic endeavors, but also in life.”
Jeff and his wife, Jamie Adler Sauer ’65, live in Madison, Wis., and have two children: Elizabeth Sauer Frederick ’02 and Chip. When Jeff isn’t coaching, he can be found on the golf course.
To learn more about Jeff Sauer’s career, search for his name
on the CC website.
Update: The U.S. sled hockey team defeated Russia 1-0 to take gold in the March 15 final. They became the first team to win back-to-back Paralympics gold medals thanks to the goal by Josh Sweeney, who lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan. After the victory, Coach Jeff Sauer said, “I’ve coached guys in the National Hockey League and guys that have won national championships, but the chemistry on this team with a 15-year-old and a 35-year-old player is better than any team I’ve ever coached. There’s a bond there and I love them like sons.”