DULUTH -- With fewer and fewer teams in the ECHL, players on contract with AHL or NHL teams can find themselves shuttled from coast to coast. Especially goaltenders.
Billy Sauer, a University of Michigan product, was an extreme example.
The 22-year-old played for four teams in the ECHL as a rookie last season, sometimes staying for just days at a time. Sauer also spent part of the season with AHL Lake Erie, where he was under contract.
Sauer and Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle are hoping for a more stable situation this season. Pyle signed the 22-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native and the contract was announced Thursday.
"I want a kid that's coming in for the same reasons as all the others, someone who wants a spot," Pyle said. "Talking to him, he has a good mentality. He wants a place where hopefully he can settle in for a year."
Pyle was interested in signing Sauer early on this summer, but wasn't sure what affiliates Atlanta or AHL Chicago might be sending to Gwinnett.
Pyle still doesn't know who'll be assigned, but he didn't want to take the chance of being without a go-to goalie.
"Both of Atlanta's kids I saw, I liked, (Ed) Pasquale and (Chris) Carrozzi," said Pyle, one of their coaches at the Thrashers' prospect development camp in July. "I don't know how all the numbers work out though.
"I can't take a chance. There could be a injury, a kid might still go back to junior. I've got to do what I've got to do."
He did his homework on Sauer and liked what he found, including a 4-1 record and 1.55 goals-against average at the end of the season when Sauer landed in Alaska.
Sauer played with Tim Miller, on assignment in Gwinnett last season, for four years at Michigan and the two were also roommates. Pyle talked to Miller and got a very positive report.
Miller was a source of information for Sauer as he made his decision this summer as well.
"Tim called me first," Sauer said. "He had gotten word that Gwinnett was interested. We talked for a while about it. He was a good person to talk to since he'd just been there last season. But everybody who's gone into Gwinnett says it's a nice city and rink. It's a good place to play."
Sauer started his rookie season in Charlotte, a division rival, but wasn't there long enough to see Gwinnett first-hand. He played just five games with the Checkers before being relocated.
"I bounced around for a little bit," Sauer said. "It was a bad situation with a lot of goalies in Charlotte.
"It can get crazy. The team that signs you wants you to play and especially being a goalie, there's only two spots per team. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't."
Sauer lived out of a suitcase and often stayed in hotels, but did get to see much of the country.
"I had kind of a good time," Sauer said.
Lake Erie recalled him from Charlotte for what was supposed to be a weekend stint. Two months and two more stops later, Sauer finally got a chance to go back to Charlotte and pick up some of his stuff.
He played four games for Toledo and two for Las Vegas before he was brought back to Lake Erie again and got his first AHL start. Sauer remained in Cleveland for -- finally -- an extended period of time. He posted a 5-7-1 record with a .901 save percentage for the Monsters.
"I got some good playing time then had to sit for a little while," Sauer said. "So I was excited to go to Alaska and play."
Sauer spent four seasons at Michigan prior to his pro debut last year. In 2007-08, he posted a 30-4-3 record, led the nation in wins and helped the Wolverines reach the NCAA Frozen Four. He set single-season school records for goals-against average with a 1.95 and save percentage with a .924. Sauer was also named to the NCAA East Regional all-tournament team.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound netminder was 71-30-8 with a 2.56 GAA and .908 save percentage in 114 career collegiate games. He was a seventh-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2006.