Following a tough 3-2 Spokane Chiefs loss to the Kamloops Blazers in WHL league action, Chiefs defenseman and Colorado Avalanche prospect Kurt Sauer was kind enough to do an interview with Hockeysfuture.
Born in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on January 16, 1981, Kurt started playing hockey at six in used equipment and skates that were a couple sizes too big however, this hasn’t deterred the big defenseman from pursuing an NHL dream. Playing for North Iowa in the USHL during the 98-99 season, Kurt intended on attending college, but was listed by the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs. After a visit to Spokane, Kurt opted to join the Chiefs for the 99/00 season and it appears to have been a wise decision.
Kurts rookie season saw him finish eighth overall in the WHL with a +36, but it lead the western conference and all WHL rookies. Kurt was also voted as co-rookie of the year in Spokane. Following the season, Kurt entered the NHL Entry Draft and Colorado used it’s fifth pick, 88th overall to snare Kurt.
A punishing hitter and rock solid stay at home defenseman, Kurt is a top prospect in the Avalanche system and when asked about Kurt, Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz said, “he’s a quality kid both on and off the ice, just a great guy.” Players around the league praise Kurt’s punishing physical prowess by saying they avoid, “going along the wall on Kurts side of the ice if at all possible.”
When asked if he was surprised that Kurt, considered by most, along with Dan Hamhuis of Prince George, to be the elite defenseman in the WHL this season, Speltz replied, “He didn’t get sent back, they couldn’t agree on a contract and he had nowhere to play if he didn’t come back. We were more than happy to get him back, but we were kept in contact during the contract negotiations and new where they were at. They felt he needed to work on some things and wasn’t ready, but we know what he can do.”
6’4″, 225, Defenseman
Born: Jan. 16, 1981, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Drafted: 88th overall, third round Colorado Avalanche
HF. Kurt, most people around the Western Hockey League were surprised when you were sent back by the Avalanche. Were you surprised to be returned?
Kurt: Well., they felt I needed to work on some things and as a player you always want to get better. I’m just excited to get the chance to play hockey.
HF. Was it a contract problem?
Kurt: Not really, they felt I needed to get better in some areas.
HF: What were areas they felt you needed to improve because defensively you seem like your a man against boys out there? Do they want you to become more offensive?
Kurt: Yes, I think they want me to work on handling the puck and becoming more involved in the play.
HF: Were they concerned at all about the knee injury you received when hit by Blazer tough guy Colton Orr in last years playoffs and did that play a part in you returning to the WHL.
Kurt: It might have, I think they wondered how it would hold up. They had to repair the Medial Collateral Ligament.
HF: I noticed last year guys were getting frustrated when they were trying to lay big hits on you and most of the time ended up getting the worst of it so they started coming up high with the elbows and gloves. Is that why you started to bring your stick up when guys would run you?
HF: Most of the time, it’s the top scorer on the opposing team that gets the extra attention, but as a defenseman you seem to be the guy other teams key on, do you notice it much and how do you react?
Kurt: Yes, they’ll try and dump the puck in deep on my side so I have to go and chase it, give me a little extra hit. jokingly Kurt adds, “maybe I should fight a little more”.
HF response: No, you don’t need to do that, you’re physical enough and needed on the ice. And as a matter of fact, most players I’ve talked to around the league hate having to go along the boards on Kurts side because of his strength and big hits.
HF: Where is your brother Kent (formerly with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League in 98/99) playing? Is he happy with how his career is going?
Kurt: Cincinnati of the ECHL? We’ll, you always see yourself as playing at the top level, but he’s enjoying playing.
HF: Growing up in the states, there isn’t a lot of hockey on television, but who were some of the guys you watched and followed growing up.
Kurt: Well, you’re right, there wasn’t much hockey on television growing up around Minnesota, you always watched the local team, so guys like Hatcher and Modano.
HF: Being an American and not really growing up in a hockey hotbed, how did you get into the game?
Kurt: Well, football, basketball and baseball were the big sports and my dad played triple “A” baseball, but we went out and my brother and me bought some used equipment for about forty bucks and started playing with skates about two sizes too big he says with a chuckle.
HF: So many players are coming form the U.S. now, do you think it’s because of the high school hockey system?
Kurt: No, not really, in high school, but in triple “A” hockey, the guys just wanted to play hockey, they’d travel from all over and it cost a lot of money, they really wanted to play. In high school though, we’d get two thousand people out to watch games against our rivals and in state tourneys, we’d get like 16,000.
HF: Being from the states, when did you consider coming to the Western Hockey League?
Kurt: Well I played Tier II junior “A” in the USHL and was planning on going to college, but my advisor talked to me about it in the summer before college and got me listed by the Chiefs and after seeing the building and how they treated the players in Spokane, decided to come.
AROUND THE WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE
The top five teams at the moment in the WHL are led by the Canadian Hockey Leagues number one rated team and defending CHL Champions, the Red Deer Rebels who sport a 15-1-3 record and are currently riding a seven game win streak. Owned and coached by former NHL player Brent Sutter, the Rebels play the game as their coach did, with a commitment to defence, grit and tireless work ethic. The top ranked Rebels invade Kamloops on Friday, which should be a very interesting match up as the Blazers, sitting tied for fifth overall with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, dropped out of the CHL Top Ten for the first time this week after a couple of losses on the weekend to their arch rivals, the Prince George Cougars and Kelowna Rockets. The Blazers have always prided themselves on being one of the hardest working teams in the WHL, but the Rebels are a team that so far this season have been unmatched when it comes to grinding out wins, so this shapes up to be a great game as the Blazers look to rebound and the Rebels want to continue to roll.
Right on the heels of the Rebels are the high scoring Swift Current Broncos, who sit with a 12-4-3-1 record. The Broncos are led by snipers Tim Smith, Duncan Milroy, Brent Twordik and defenseman Ian White. Currently leading the lead in goals scored with seventy-six, the Broncos are an exciting offensive team to watch, however they give up a few and this should make up for some exciting hockey on Wednesday, November 7/01 when the Broncos host the Spokane Chiefs. Spokane, sporting a 12-5-0-1 record and sitting third overall in the WHL, have given up only forty one goals in eighteen games. Kurt Sauer, who provided us with today’s interview leads a stingy defence at +12 and should give the small, but quick Bronco forwards all they can handle. Former Chief Tim Smith, sitting fourth in league scoring will look to light up his former team.
The Portland Winterhawks and Kootenay Ice sit tied for fourth overall in the “dub” however Portland has played five fewer games. Portland are lead by Josh Olson (25 pts) and high flying imports Jacub Klepis (20 pts) and Josef Balej (22 pts), two exciting offensive players who can both play the skill game at top speed, while Olson is a big, strong forward who is tough to move off the puck. Lanny Ramage, a nineteen year old goaltender, is an acrobatic sort who is capable of winning games on his own for the Winterhawks.
The Kootenay Ice on the other hand have but one loss in their last nine and are 10-8-3-0 overall, after a less than stellar start. Jarret Stoll, the Calgary Flames second round pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft who has been out since the start of the season after a severe cut to his hand, has returned to the line up, scoring six points in the five games since his return, while imports Tomas Plihal (29 pts) and Marek Svatos (22 pts has missed seven games due to injury) have picked up the slack in his absence. With all three finally healthy, the Ice should make a strong move forward in the standings with the firepower up front.
Tied for sixth spot in the WHL are the Lethbridge Hurricanes at 10-4-2-0 and the Kamloops Blazers at 10-5-1-1. Lethbridge are led by the trio of Nathan Barrett (31 pts, Vancouver Canuck draft pick), import Tomas Kopecky (28 pts) and Ryley Layden (24 pts). Defensively the ‘Canes are led by nineteen year old Phil Cole and eighteen year old Simon Ferguson as well as possible 2003 NHL Entry Draft first rounder Brent Seabrooke. Lethbridge plays a steady defensive game while capitalizing on their offensive chances. Lethbridge should also be involved in one of the better games of the week, as they will host the U.S. Division leading Spokane Chiefs on Friday, Nov. 9/01. Both teams like to play defence first, with the Chiefs having given up just forty one goals in eighteen games while the Hurricanes have allowed only forty three in sixteen games, so it should be a hard fought, low scoring affair as two of the leagues best defences go at it.
Kamloops started out like a house on fire, going 7-1-0-0 in the first eight, have played six of the last nine on the road and have gone a less than inspiring 3-4-1-1. Led by the dynamic duo of Scottie Upshall (23 pts) and Jared Aulin (22 pts) up front, the Blazers have played less than stellar defence. On their recent road swing the Blazers were out shot an average of 40-26, which will need to be addressed if they hope to stay with the leagues elite. In defence of the Blazers, Jared Aulin, who missed the last game against Kelowna and most of the previous game against Prince George, they have also been without two key players who make them tougher and much harder to play against in tough right wingers Colton Orr (2001 free agent signing by the Bruins) and highly touted 2002 NHL Draft Eligible Paul Brown (out since the summer with a broken ankle). These two guys add grit, toughness and some scoring to the line up and will certainly make a difference in the space oposing players get to roam in which should help defensively.
WATCH OUT NOW!
Jarret Stoll, after suffering a severe hand injury (received a severe laceration trying to separate frozen steaks) before the season began, has returned to the Kootenay Ice line up, scoring six points in the five games he’s played. Stoll, a second round 2000 NHL entry draft selection of the Calgary Flames, 46th overall, should bring the already high flying Kootenay offence to new heights, a scary thought for other WHL teams. Last season, Jarret amassed 106 points in sixty two games (40 goals, 66 assists) and if he can bring that same production this season the Ice, who already have scored eighty goals in twenty one games, will be tough to stop. It should be interesting to see if the Ice put Stoll, who is an excellent playmaker, on a line with first year import Tomas Plihal who knows how to put the biscuit in the basket or if they match him up with Marek Svatos who is also pretty adept at finding the old onion bag. Either way, Jarret Stoll gives the Kootenay Ice an added dimension that should see them climb the WHL pecking order in a hurry.