Mike Sauer was drafted by the New York Rangers 40th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft after an injury-plagued season with the Portland Winter Hawks. Earlier this season Sauer was dealt from the lowly Winter Hawks to the Medicine Hat Tigers who went on to edge the Vancouver Giants in the WHL Championship. Sauer, currently ranked the Rangers 17th best prospect by Hockey’s Future, appears to have put the injury concerns behind him playing 65 games between the two teams this season, compiling five goals and 18 assists in the process.
Sauer is a rock-solid defensive defender at 6’3, 205 lbs. He’s spent most of his time playing alongside Canadian World Junior alumni Kris Russell being used by Head Coach Willie Desjardins frequently and in every situation. With the clock ticking down, you can bet on the Sauer/Russell pairing being on the ice. Sauer will be 20 this summer and will be aiming to join brother Kurt in the NHL ranks sometime in the coming years. Sauer spoke with Hockey’s Future immediately after the Tigers defeated the Giants in the final round-robin game of the tournament to earn an automatic spot in the championship game.
HF: The Tigers finished the round robin portion of the tournament with a 2-1 record. How has the tournament gone so far do you think?
MS: I think it’s been alright, gone pretty well. We got our way into the final, which was our goal definitely coming in. We came here to play the best we can, hopefully come out with the Memorial Cup. We have to make sure we show up every night, make sure we’re playing hard. Tonight was a big night for us. With the way the seeding was going and everything, it was a must win. And both teams played well, they got a lot of chances, so did we, and we just got a couple bounces and ended up our way.
HF: Having played the Giants seven times previously in the past few weeks, did you make any specific adjustments for this game?
MS: I don’t know really. After seven games you kind of understand what a team plays like and what their tendencies are. I guess we just knew that we had to come out and match their work ethic, they’re a hard-working team. And that was our big goal coming in for sure.
HF: Was it difficult for the team to get into the Western finals knowing that you were going to be in the Memorial Cup regardless of the result?
MS: No, I don’t think at all. We play to win every night, that’s our goal. We work hard and that’s kind of our team motto. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pick-up game on the ice just before or whatever, our team is playing to win and that’s what we’re trying to do.
HF: What’s it like to play with Kris Russell?
MS: It’s been great. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s very great offensively, but also you know he’s a smaller guy but he plays really well defensively as well. Quick, he hits the hands real well and makes my job a lot easier because he handles the puck so well. It’s been a good fit so far, and hopefully we just keep it going.
HF: Have you found yourself focusing on your defensive game as a result of partnering with Russell most of the time?
MS: I guess. He’s very offensive and that’s great. If I can help out defensively and that’s my job, my role, then I’ll do so. We just kind of play back and forth. If one of us is going to jump into the rush, I’ll let him go. He’s got the shot and the speed so I’ll let him go.
HF: You’ve played all three teams, who do you expect to see in the finals?
MS: Oh, I don’t…I’m not going to guess, I have no idea. They’re all great teams, they all deserve to be here. I’m sure the team that is worthy is going to make it. They’re all crucial games for everybody.
HF: Moving beyond this tournament, where do you expect you will be playing next season?
MS: I don’t know, I guess I’ll keep working hard and I guess I’m with the New York Rangers right now and we’ll see what they have to say and go from there.
HF: You mentioned the Rangers, how much contact have you had with the organization this season?
MS: Not in the playoffs. They kind of let me go. Earlier in the season they’ll give me a call once every two months I’ll talk to somebody, but they kind of let you play and I guess they’re watching you. You just keep working hard and improving.
HF: When you do talk, are they just checking in to see how you’re doing or are they making suggestions for things that you need to work on?
MS: It can be a little of both. They’re definitely trying to make sure you’re happy with where you’re at and everything. But definitely coming to Medicine Hat, we’re winning and things are going awesome. I guess they just kind of let me play. If they’re there, I’m always looking for suggestions to help our my game. You have to be open to new things. If they say anything, it’s definitely something you want to key on.
HF: How would you describe your style of play to somebody who has never seen you play before?
MS: I’d say a defensive defenseman. I think I play well in the D-zone. I can play powerplay or whatever, I can get in there. But I think I’ve kind of developed myself as a steady defenseman on the back end who can help out and make a good first pass.
HF: What is the one thing that you’re specifically focusing on improving?
MS: I think you can always improve your puck-handling skills, give yourself more space. I think speed as well, that’s key. At any level, and as you move up games get faster, games get quicker, so I think that’s something any player should work on.
HF: When you’re off the ice and not training, what do you do for fun?
MS: To entertain myself? Oh fishing! In the summer I’m fishing. I love to fish. I go on the lake with my brothers and we’re always out there fishing and training and that stuff. Yeah, that’s fun.
HF: Have the Rangers given you any indication of what summer camps you will be expected to attend?
MS: I imagine there is a development camp. I imagine like last year’s, but I’m not thinking about that. We’re still in a big tournament here and I just have to focus on that and whatever I can do to help the team win.
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