Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
There are moments in life where things feel as if they have come full circle. I’ve had moments like this throughout my 30 years of existence. Both personally and professionally we’ve all experienced a situation or two where the wheel of fortune spins wildly back to where it began. The Edmonton Oilers have had a couple in recent days. It began with the Crag MacTavish hiring. To work a couple of rungs above the general manager that “relieved you of your duties” is a 360 degree moment. The other happened yesterday morning, but in a slightly broader stroke.
34 years ago, a kid named Ralph landed with a coach named Doug as a member of the WHL Calgary Wranglers. That 19 year old hustled for 62 games, 28 goals, and 55 assists. But Ralph didn’t last long. With a German passport in hand, he waived farewell to North America, and headed to his homeland where he’d spend the next twelve seasons in the German Ice Hockey League.
That Ralph is now the Edmonton Oilers 11th coach in it’s storied franchise history. That Doug is now the Oklahoma City Barons hockey ambassador as well as a color commentator alongside Jim Byers.
Indeed, Doug Sauter of the Oklahoma City Blazers coaching fame once guided a gangly and googly-eyed Ralph Krueger. And thus these two are linked together, within a different organization, a different time period, and in two very different capacities — full circle nonetheless.
“I had him as a 19 year old. He came in and worked real hard to become a well-rounded player,” Sauter said. “I knew he was going to be a success when he went off to Europe,” said Sauter to Tim Wharnsby of CBC Sports, “I think it’s about time that he gets a shot in the NHL. It’s a league that tends to recycle and recycle and recycle. This move gives all those coaches in junior and the AHL who don’t think they will get a shot some hope.”
Sauter and Krueger were able to reunite a season ago in Oklahoma City when Ralph came to town to watch the young Barons’ prospects, but to also see his son Justin play for the Charlotte Checkers.
“His maturity and knowledge of the game was evident,” Sauter said of spending time with Krueger after not having seen him in years. “It also was nice to see a Dad watch his son play. He was so proud.”
Doug Sauter has been around a long time. He knows a lot of people. His impact on hockey, in general terms, is quite remarkable. Even without any NHL coaching experience, his love of the game has transcended his Oklahoma City CHL successes in ways that I still find myself surprised by. The Krueger connection is another fine example of how even a minor league coach turned OKC hockey ambassador can have a full circle moment.
NOTE: Interesting thought towards the middle of this article where Doug questions why he didn’t ever make it to the NHL as a coach. Tim Wharnsby writes:
“Before he became the colour analyst and ambassador for the Oklahoma City Barons in the American Hockey League, Sauter spent 36 years as a coach in junior and the minor pro game. He never got a shot in the NHL and always wondered if that had something to do with his outside interests in rodeo and training Clydesdale horses.”