The Dean's List by Jeff Sauer

Jeff Sauer – the fifth-winningest coach in college history – will write a bi-weekly column for Inside College Hockey. "The Dean" was the head coach for 31 years at Colorado College and Wisconsin, where he won two national titles. Sauer retired at the end of the 2001-02 season.

This is a new college hockey season for me. For the first time in 31 years, I don't have to worry about dry land training or devising training camp drills or figuring out who was going to play on special teams.

I get to sit up in the stands with you and second guess and enjoy watching the game. I'm not going to mislead you. I will miss coaching, but I am grateful to the editors of Inside College Hockey who have given me the opportunity to share my thoughts on the great game of college hockey.

In my years of coaching at Colorado College and the University of Wisconsin, I have seen this game develop and grow so that this year we will have a 16-team national tournament for the first time and six different conferences, including College Hockey America and the MAAC, will have representatives in the NCAA field.

It is an exciting time with preseason polls trying to figure out who are the teams to beat. My general rule of thumb is look to teams with solid goaltending as contenders. That's why so many people talk about Denver this year with Wade Dubielewicz back in goal.

And the other thing to watch is how many teams have veteran, experienced players on their roster. Each year the teams with the older, savvy players generally succeed, if they have good goaltending, of course. Freshmen can add a lot to a roster, but my experience has been the older, more experienced players have to play well for your team to have success. College hockey is not a freshman league any more. Freshmen can make a difference, but in most cases, it's the older players who get the job done for you.

But one of the biggest changes in the game – and the reason it is tougher than ever to forecast who will be good – is the trend that sees pro teams signing players with college eligibility remaining. This trend drives college coaches to consider getting out of the business long before I did.

The pressure is on today's college coach to recruit the best players, but in doing so a coach knows he may only have that player for two or three years. It is tough to maintain continuity. So in setting up your recruiting, a coach tries to surround the great recruit with solid, character players who will develop in your system. You hope these complementary players grow into their roles and become solid four-year players for you, players who have an understanding of your system long after your "star recruit" is playing in the pros – and players who collectively can take the big name's place.

The signing of players with college eligibility has become as commonplace in the game as the "sieve chant." I was fortunate to coach Dany Heatley for two years at Wisconsin. When Atlanta offered Heatley a $1 million signing bonus and a lucrative contract after his sophomore year, as a coach you had to advise him to take the money, leave school and turn pro.

The Bud Song

Enjoy the true spirit of The Dean's column – listen to The Bud Song on Wisconsin's official site.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt you to give that advice. Minnesota went through this trend this past summer when Jeff Taffe signed with Phoenix; Rensselaer lost all-American forward Marc Cavosie, who signed with Minnesota after his junior year; Minnesota-Mankato saw forward Tim Jackman sign with Columbus after his sophomore year; Michigan State lost All-American goalie and former Hobey Baker Award winner Ryan Miller, who signed with Buffalo; and Michigan had the toughest summer. Coach Red Berenson saw his big defenseman, Mike Komisarek, sign with Montreal and forward Mike Cammalleri sign with Los Angeles. I know Red was upset and I can understand it because it changed the whole makeup of his club.

In Heatley's case, I think we all knew it was time for Dany to take the next step. He was a good student and he still talks about getting his degree, but he had dominated the college game. The fact he was the Rookie of the Year last year in the National Hockey League says he made the right choice. I knew it was the right decision for other players of mine like Curtis Joseph, Pat Flatley and Chris Chelios.

Other times it is not so clear, and it has to frustrate Red to see that Cammaleri will start the year in the minor leagues when he could be at Michigan making progress to his degree. Because, to be honest, for every Heatley and Cujo, I also have had guys who played in the NHL come back and tell me they wish they had stayed another year in college and made progress toward a degree before turning pro.

Part of the fun in doing this column will be the opportunity to interact with you, the hockey fan. Please send your questions or comments to I'll answer as many questions as I can in this spot every two weeks.

I heard Craig Dahl, the St. Cloud coach, talk about how he had to convince his fine forward Ryan Malone into turning down an opportunity to sign with Pittsburgh this summer and return to school. He credited Ryan's dad, Greg, a former NHLer who happens to be Pittsburgh's director of player development, with talking about the value of school.

There are so many factors in these decisions. Obviously money is one, a player's family situation is another. How bad does a player value a college degree? Often the decision has to do with a player's background. Did he grow up in a culture where making the NHL is more important than anything?

In situations like this, it can put a coach in the situation where he is more a parent than anything else. If a player has a chance to be set up financially for many years by turning pro, I think a coach has to say that to a player. But he also owes him the responsibility to talk about the value of an education – to explain about life after hockey and how important a college degree is then.

Most of the time, these types of situations occur in what fans think of as the off-season. Often times these situations have the biggest impact on the season which is about to begin.

Next time in this space we'll talk about some important rule changes that will impact the college game this season

Enjoy the opening games of the season.

Read more about players departing early for the pro ranks in INCH's main feature.

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