ST. PAUL, Minn. — Hey, how about that? A player from Minnesota finally scored a goal in the Western Conference finals. A crowd of hockey-loving fans from a hockey-mad state leaped to their feet Monday when the puck crossed the goal line, cheering, waving signs and twirling little white towels over their heads.
Unfortunately for the Minnesota Wild, Kurt Sauer only hails from Minnesota.
He wears the eggplant and jade uniform of the rival Mighty Ducks, and he did all he could to make the rest of a sellout crowd of 19,344 at the Xcel Energy Center miserable with an alert play to break a scoreless tie.
Sauer, a rookie defenseman from Sartell, Minn., scored his first playoff goal while the Ducks were skating short-handed 7:24 into the second period of his team's 2-0 victory over the Wild in Game 2. He joined an odd-man rush after Dan Bylsma fed the puck ahead to a streaking Steve Rucchin, who left a pass for Sauer on right wing.
Sauer's deflected wrist shot beat goalie Dwayne Roloson to the stick side for only his second NHL goal. Thirty members of the Sauer clan, plus assorted friends, bellowed their approval from their seats in the lower level of the arena.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 14, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 0 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Hockey photo -- Mighty Duck wing Dan Bylsma was misidentified as defenseman Kurt Sauer in a Sports photo caption Tuesday.
"I screamed," Sauer's mother, Peggy, said after the game. "I saw it because I usually only watch Kurt when he's on the ice. He popped it in, and it was so exciting. I was crying. This is so much fun. I'm kind of numb. You never know what's going to happen next. I feel like bursting out sometimes."
Sauer's father, Curt, seemed only a tad less thrilled.
Curt Sauer on Saturday was the family member assigned to calm the nerves of the eldest of his six children, Craig, a former quarterback at the University of Minnesota and, later, a linebacker with the Vikings and Atlanta Falcons.
Craig paced near the hot dog stands during the Ducks' 1-0 double-overtime victory in Game 1, stealing glances at concourse-level televisions. He returned to his home in St. Cloud, Minn., which is not far from Sartell and about a 90-minute drive from downtown St. Paul, watching Game 2 on TV.
"He gets so nervous," Curt Sauer said. "He said to me, 'At least at home I can turn the TV off if it's too tight.' I had tried to get Craig to play hockey, and to this day, I think he wishes he had played hockey."
Not far away, the man of the moment was surrounded by reporters in the Duck dressing room, attempting to explain how a stay-at-home defenseman scored the pivotal goal that sent his team toward a 2-0 series lead over the Wild.
Sauer had been an opportunist on the play -- just as he had in scoring his first NHL goal during a 4-1 rout March 9 against the Detroit Red Wings that gave a hint of what was to come during the Ducks' remarkable postseason run. His goal Monday was the first short-handed strike by a rookie defenseman in the playoffs since 1989.
"I was right in front of the net," said Sauer, 22, who was expected to play in the minors when training camp began in September, but has been a valuable addition to a defense corps in need of depth.
"That's prime real estate and I'm not there very often, so I let it fly. It's crazy. All of a sudden, everything is hitting me.... Back in Minnesota.... My first playoff goal.... The whole works."