Michael Sauer was never a flashy guy or a power play quarterback. From the time he joined the Rangers, he showed himself to be the kind of defenseman every team needs: big (6’3″, 220), strong and hardworking; reliable in his own end; willing to fight but not one to take questionable penalties; and sensible both with the puck and without. He was drafted in the 2nd round, 40th overall in 2005, and when he joined the Rangers permanently at the start of the 2010-2011 season, he quickly earned the respect and affection of New York fans. So when a brutal hit from Dion Phaneuf in December of last year sent him to IR with a concussion, Ranger fans were both upset and concerned (it didn’t help that top d-man Marc Staal was also out with post-concussion symptoms at the time).
The defensive dominance of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, the return of Staal in January, the excellent regular-season play of Michael Del Zotto, and the unexpected elevation of Anton Stralman’s game all combined to make Sauer’s absence slightly less glaring, but no one forgot about the kid from Minnesota, despite an alarming lack of information provided regarding his progress. The most recent update on Sauer’s condition came from John Tortorella this past September at the Rangers’ charity dog-walking event, and the news was distressing: “Michael has not responded that well, I’ll be quite honest… I think it’s going to be a little bit of time before Michael resumes his career.”
While this article was initially meant to simply be about Sauer and his potential for returning to action, when I began to research it, I discovered some interesting information about his family. Sauer is the youngest of four brothers who have competed in pro sports. The oldest of these, Craig, was a former U of Minnesota linebacker who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1996 and played 5 seasons in the NFL (four for Atlanta, one for the Minnesota Vikings). Craig Sauer retired in 2000 at age 27 due to a foot injury.
The other Sauer brothers are all hockey players, and all defensemen. Kent Sauer was drafted by the Nashville Predators in 1998 but never played in the NHL – his career was ended by a knee injury at age 23 while playing in the ECHL. The most notable brother, other than Michael, would have to be Kurt, and his story is perhaps the most unsettling. Some hockey fans may know the name; Kurt Sauer was a 3rd round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2000; although perhaps slightly less adept in his overall game than his brother Michael, he was similarly known as a big, solid stay-at-home defenseman. After 2 seasons with Anaheim and three with the Avs, he signed a 4-year, $7 million dollar deal with Phoenix in 2008.
However, in a preseason game against Anaheim in September of 2009, Kurt suffered a whiplash-like neck injury. He continued to practice with the team until problems with balance, vision and dizziness forced him off the ice during the 2010 All-Star break. He has not skated since, although still officially under contract to the Coyotes. And he continues to experience pain, vertigo and nausea that doctors have been unable to explain or repair; an eventual return to the NHL has not been ruled out for the now-31-year-old, but at present, it isn’t looking promising.
Nor is it looking overly promising for his kid brother right now. While the Rangers’ strength and depth on defense, combined with the ongoing lockout, somewhat ease the pain of Michael’s continued absence, the vast majority of Ranger fans – including this one – will still tell you they miss Sauer and express concern for the future of his NHL career. But the Sauer family is clearly athletically gifted, and as both Kurt and Michael continue the fight to resume their NHL careers, we as fans should maintain hope and faith.