The Dean's List

Jeff Sauer – the sixth-winningest coach in college history – writes a bi-weekly column for Inside College "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. He was the 2003 Snooks Kelley Award winner for contributions to U.S. hockey and ranked 16th on INCH's list of the all-time greatest college hockey coaches.

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Ask The Dean

Do you know when the vote will be taken in Nashville on the Division III reform that could impact hockey-playing schools like CC, Clarkson, St. Lawrence and RPI? Kelly B., Milwaukee

I am relatively new to attending NCAA conventions, so I am not an expert on all that goes on behind the scenes, but my understanding is that it will be voted on Monday, the last day of the convention.

January 7, 2004
The Dean's List by Jeff Sauer

What a great and glorious day for U.S. hockey it was Monday when the Americans won their first ever gold medal at the World Junior Championship in Helsinki. And just when you wanted to feel so very proud and good about the college game's contributions, there was the sad news 24 hours later that another college program, Findlay, was dropping the sport at the end of the season.

It has been a big week in the hockey world, a topsy-turvy period which started with the Americans' 6-0 showing in Finland with a college coach in charge and a roster dominated by college players. It continued with the announcement of Findlay and the switch of Vermont from the ECAC to Hockey East. It will end Monday with the big vote at the NCAA Convention on whether Division III schools Clarkson, Colorado College, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence will continue to be able to compete in Division I sports like hockey.

Let's talk about the positives first. Congratulations to head coach Mike Eaves and the U.S. players who beat Canada so dramatically Monday with that three-goal, third period comeback.

It won't get the headlines that the 1980 gold medal Olympic victory in Lake Placid got, but the gold medal in Helsinki ranks up there with one of the great moments in U.S. hockey history.

In all my days in international hockey, I learned the world junior tournament is the most intense in the world and very difficult to win.

Why do I say that? Because of the age of the players, the best in the world. They are young, enthusiastic 18- and 19-year-olds playing against others who are representing their country with great passion. Because the players come from different teams and backgrounds, as a coach, you don't have a lot of time to prepare them and get them playing together in a system that is successful.

To see the flag raised in Finland, on a foreign ice sheet, was quite an accomplishment for USA Hockey.

Related Links

U.S. Wins Gold: Postcard | TV Rebroadcast
Findlay: CHA Loses Team

I was fortunate to be involved in this tournament last year as an assistant coach when Coach Lou Vairo had guys like Zach Parise, Mark Stuart, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Suter and Patrick O'Sullivan as young guys in this tournament of under 20-year-olds. The U.S. lost to Canada in the semifinals last year when the tournament was in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Last year Canada had home ice and they also had the older guys on the roster. I can remember how tough it was to lose that game and how big it was for Canada to win, even if they lost to Russia in the finals. People in this country have no idea how heartbreaking it is in Canada when the Canadians come so close in this tournament, but fail to win gold in a sport they love.

This year Canada had the younger guys of the two teams and the U.S. had the more experienced players. And they came though. Guys like Parise and Stuart and the young goalie Al Montoya were great. To win on foreign ice is tough, but the U.S. was fortunate to have a group that had played in international competition for USA Hockey. They were used to different foods and different accommodations and all the distractions that go with international play.

Certainly this is a feather in the cap of the U.S. Development Program, which had received a lot of criticism since Jeff Jackson started it for USA Hockey in Ann Arbor, Mich. Critics said it cost a lot of money, but this tournament win was what USA Hockey had in mind when the program began. It was a great triumph for U.S. hockey, maybe the biggest since the World Cup and some would argue the biggest since Lake Placid in 1980. But it puts the U.S. on the forefront of the world hockey stage.

I think the makeup of the team says a lot about college hockey, too. Coaches developed many of the stars of that team. They came from places like North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado College and Boston College. And although there were Tier I kids like O'Sullivan and James Wisniewski on the U.S. team, the championship game could be viewed by some pro scouts as products of the college system (U.S.) vs. major junior (Canada, which featured only one collegian, Jeff Tambellini of Michigan).

Next year the tournament will be held on our soil – Dec. 25-Jan. 4 in Grand Forks, N.D., and Thief River Falls, Minn. If you can get tickets, snatch them up because it's a great show. It will be so nice to have the Americans as the defending champions.

The news about Findlay had been rumored, but it was still was sad to see when it finally came. I had been following their team closely because Pat Ford was a former assistant coach of mine who got his first head coaching job there. He had them playing well. They beat Michigan State to open the season and I had heard Findlay was a hard-working team who was playing everyone tough.

It is sad to see when any programs make the decision to drop a program, but this one really hurts. It has a snowball effect because it means the College Hockey America will only have five teams after this season and will lose its much sought-after automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament – unless another team can be found to move to CHA.

I think we all want to see that automatic berth stay, since the CHA sent a very good representative last year in Wayne State (and Niagara in 2000). Many people in the hockey worked very hard to get that league to be involved in the 16-team NCAA tournament that all followers of the sport enjoyed last year.

I know there is speculation that a new program like Robert Morris of Pittsburgh may be asked to join the CHA, and I am sure there will be talks about that and other options at the NCAA meetings Jan. 10-12 in Nashville.

With the word that Vermont is moving to Hockey East in the 2005-06 season, there is even more movement in the hockey landscape. That, along with the Division III legislation, which may also impact the future of the sport, will provide many formal and informal discussions at the NCAA meetings.

But all those discussions, I am sure, will include a mention about what a great feat the U.S. team achieved at the world juniors tournament. It was a great day for American hockey.

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