Minor league hockey player Colton Saucerman has become a fan favorite thanks to his name, big red beard and the subsequently popular "Get Sauced" t-shirts.
Here are some pertinent facts about Utica Comets defenseman Colton Saucerman, 26, beyond the recently viral twin forces of 1) his ginger beehive beard and 2) the reality that his patronym roughly equates to a quarterback named Spiralson, or a tennis player named Slicesmith:
Last week, when the Canucks’ AHL affiliate were short on right-shot blueliners, they summoned Saucerman from his previous outpost with the ECHL’s Idaho Steeheads. After attending his first Comets practice on Tuesday, Dec. 11, Saucerman conducted an interview with local media, returned to the Holiday Inn Express where he would stay for the assignment—“not many choices in downtown Utica”—and fell asleep. Upon waking up, his Instagram follower count had doubled from 1,500 to 3,000. “And then,” Saucerman says, “it just got even worse.”
This was not his first call-up, which puzzles Saucerman as to why his story blew up this time, drawing national headlines about and earning an appearance on ESPN's hockey podcast. Last season alone he appeared for three AHL teams: Providence, Ontario and Springfield, plus a single game with Hershey in ‘16-17. Sure, most minor-league nuts would’ve recognized him in those towns anyway. But now fans everywhere can buy GET SAUCED UTICA T-shirts. The other night, Saucerman was eating dinner with some teammates from Sweden. “And their buddies are asking about it,” he says. “I was kind of shocked how big it got.”
Saucerman was raised in Colorado Springs. He began skating at age 3 and attended his first game at age 4, Colorado College vs. Denver. Later he shuttled between four junior teams in two leagues in three years before earning a scholarship to Northeastern University, where he helped lead the Huskies to the Hockey East championship as a senior and then graduated with a degree in criminal justice, simply because he found subject matter cool.
The earliest that Saucerman can recall being labeled as undersized came when he was around 7 or 8. “I was the smallest guy for most of my teams,” he says. “It’s always been a knock. Can he defend against bigger, stronger, faster guys? I try my best. It’s hard sometimes. I’m not big, but I don’t shy away from contact. I’m not a fighter at all, but I’ve learned to protect myself.” Much of his instruction came from longtime pugilist Trevor Gillies, a teammate in ECHL South Carolina during his first year as a pro. One day after practice, Saucerman asked for help “in case I hit a guy and his teammate didn’t like it and he wants to come over and rearrange my face.”
His face needed no rearranging when he dressed as Gritty for Halloween “It’s definitely fitting,” Saucerman says. “I bought the glasses and a wig and that was it. My equipment manager gave me the extra helmet, the gloves, the pants. He specially made that Gritty jersey just for one night.” Around the holidays he typically notices an uptick in Yukon Cornelius references as well.
On Dec. 12, Saucerman made his Comets debut. Midway through the first period against Providence, he wired a wrister above the right faceoff circle for his first AHL goal. When he awoke the next morning, his Instagram followers had climbed past 6,000. The Canucks team account also tweeted its excitement over what he would slip under their Christmas tree. On the subject of scoring, Saucerman says, “It was just super nice and kind of a relief.”
He understands that this moment might be fleeting. Like so many others his career exists on the border, which explains how he has dressed for eight organizations since turning pro less than three years ago. “I’m given eight games to show what I can do, and sometimes it’s not even that,” Saucerman says. “I have to fly in and learn this system in 24 hours and hopefully go out and not screw up. I have to give you a reason to keep me around. And I like that opportunity. It’s like me versus you. I want to prove to you that I can stay here and I deserve to stay here.“
There is a story that Saucerman likes to tell. It is a solid description of life in the minors. Last season, Manchester was partway through a weekend three-in-three against Adirondack when Saucerman got recalled by Providence. Turns out that someone else did too: an Adirondack forward named Brian Ward. Not wanting to leave his opponent-cum-teammate without a ride, Saucerman scooped up Ward in his blue Silverado at 8 a.m., “when last night I told him he sucked and I hated him.” They stopped for Dunkin’ Donuts. They still talk from time to time. "It was good conversation," Saucerman says.
Saucerman is unsure how long he will stay in Utica; team officials said they would provide an update before Christmas. If and when he is reassigned to Idaho, the Steelheads had already been making Sauce-themed shirts before his recent departure, so one assumes those will sell out fast. Naturally, though, he has been enjoying the heightened AHL competition as much as his unexpected national fame. Through three games with the Comets he has played some penalty kill, some four-on-four, but no power play. At five-on-five, meanwhile, he is skating on their third pair with partner Jagger Dirk.
“Crazy name, huh?” Colton Saucerman says.