The phrase is scattered around the U.S. locker room, a can’t-miss reminder of the man who coined this team’s mantra as it began its journey for gold in PyeongChang.
That man is coach Jeff Sauer, one of the most respected and regarded leaders in hockey worldwide, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in February 2017.
Jeff Sauer led Team USA to gold in Sochi in 2014
In six years as coach of the Sled National Team, Sauer registered a tremendous 48-5-2-11 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record that included reaching the championship game of every major international competition. Overall, Sauer led Team USA to seven major international titles, including a gold medal at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and a pair of gold medals at the world championship in 2012 and 2015.
But for all the success Sauer helped Team USA achieve on the ice, his greatest contribution to the team was its belief and complete buy-in on the ‘Team First’ motto.
The message behind the words varies from player to player. For one, it means checking egos at the door. For another, it means putting aside personal success for team success.
For head coach Guy Gosselin, who was alongside Sauer as an assistant coach on Team USA’s gold-medal winning squad in 2014, it’s those two words that have compelled him to use a similar mantra in “All for one, one for all.”
“Everything we as a staff have been telling our players is more or less a continuation of what Coach Sauer instilled in this room six years ago,” said Gosselin. “Everyone, including the staff, respected Coach and believed in what he preached. He created success on the ice by the lessons he taught off it, and we’re just trying to carry that legacy on.”
For alternate captain Nikko Landeros (Johnstown, Colo.), Sauer’s mantra brought about personal growth that continues to help him to this day.
“I first met Coach Sauer at a disabled festival where he was coaching a deaf hockey team,” explained Landeros.” He ended up taking me under his wing and really taught me how to be a man, both on and off the ice. He had a huge impact, and still has a huge impact, on my life here today.”
Another defender, Billy Hanning (High Ridge, Mo.) had the opportunity to play for Coach Sauer for parts of four seasons. More than anything, it was Sauer’s low-key demeanor and selflessness that stood out to Hanning and his teammates.
“Coach Sauer always had this calming presence about him,” Hanning said. “There were times when he would get amped up, but mostly he was just motivating players in a calm way. It was always about the players. Coach never made it about himself, and I think in seeing that it helped us all get behind that ‘Team First’ belief.”
These same traits stood out to Jack Wallace (Franklin Lakes, N.J.), who made his international debut by playing five games for Coach Sauer at the 2016 (Dec.) World Sled Hockey Challenge, his last international event before he passed.
“Coach Sauer was one of the smartest hockey minds I’ve ever been around,” said Wallace. “In limited time around him, he taught me so much both on and off the ice. Coach was a very inclusive person and no one was ever left out in anything we did.”
With one game left here in Korea, Team USA has the opportunity to win an unprecedented third consecutive Paralympics gold medal. This time for Coach Sauer.
“Our goal is to win a gold medal for Coach,” said Landeros, who also helped the U.S. take home gold in 2010 and 2014. “It would mean everything to us and hopefully to the Sauer family as well. No matter the outcome, we’re playing for him, his family and our families.”
The U.S., and its ‘Team First’ mentality, has one game left on its golden journey.
Team USA goes for gold on Sunday, March 18 against Canada at 12 p.m. local time, making it an 11 p.m. ET puck drop on Saturday, March 17 back in the United States. The contest will be televised live on NBCSN, in addition to being streamed live on NBCOlympics.com.
|Sun., March 11||Japan
|W, 10-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Mon., March 12||Czech Republic
|W, 10-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Tues., March 13||Korea
|W, 8-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Thurs., March 15||Italy
|W, 10-1||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Sun., March 18||Canada
|W, 2-1 (OT)||Gangneung Hockey Centre|