Sautner excited to join Jets Career reboot for Flin Flon-born blue-liner
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Pro hockey life isn’t always a glamorous life. Just ask Ashton Sautner.
In the last two seasons, the 28-year-old defenceman has spent more time grinding on an NHL taxi squad and recovering from injuries and a bout with COVID-19 than he’s spent on an active roster.
He was looking for a career refresh last week when he signed a one-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets after a seven-season run with the Vancouver Canucks organization. The move brings him back to the province of his birth and a city he stayed in just long enough in the fall of 2020 for his wife, Kelly, to give birth to the couple’s first child.
The arrival of son, Miles, came only days after Vancouver loaned Sautner, centre Tyler Graovac and goaltender Arturs Silovs to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose during the early days of the pandemic.
The Canucks wanted easier access to their top farmhands and under a special arrangement with the Jets, Sautner was told to report to Winnipeg.
Born: Flin Flon, MB
Weight: 195 lbs
“If you want crazy, that whole situation was crazy,” said Sautner earlier this week from his off-season home in Cochrane, Alta. “We were in Vancouver, my wife was probably eight months pregnant or 38 weeks and we found out we were getting loaned to Winnipeg. So, we had her car in Vancouver, we drove back to Cochrane, switched into my truck and we drove to Winnipeg (in a major snow storm). She’s a trooper. That was definitely one of the craziest things we’ve done.”
Sautner’s time in Winnipeg was brief. He played just two games with the Moose before being recalled to the Canucks, kicking off a trying season on the NHL club’s reserve squad. Although he continued to practise, his stint with Manitoba was his only game action of 2020-21.
“Mentally, for sure it was tough,” said Sautner, who has 23 NHL games and 283 AHL games on his resume. “You’re really missing out on a whole year of just playing hockey and continuing to try to develop and keeping a feel for the game… I would have liked to play some more (in Manitoba) but they decided to bring me back to Vancouver and my wife and I were in a little apartment in downtown Vancouver with our newborn son for probably four months.
“It was probably one of the hardest years we’ve had playing hockey, and certainly I was happy to get back to more normalcy last year.”
“I would have liked to play some more (in Manitoba) but they decided to bring me back to Vancouver and my wife and I were in a little apartment in downtown Vancouver with our newborn son for probably four months.” – Ashton Sautner
The 2021-22 season was better for Sautner, but not without challenges. He played 41 regular-season games with the Canucks’ AHL farm club in Abbotsford but missed six weeks with a torn MCL and also watched NHL games from the press box during four NHL recalls in which he did not dress for a game.
During a road trip through Florida, he tested positive for COVID-19 and spent six days isolated in a Fort Lauderdale hotel room. Furthermore, he wasn’t allowed over the border for 11 days.
Curiously, Sautner’s rocky road hasn’t soured him on the game.
He was thrilled on the second day of free agency earlier this month when he received a call from agent Jeff Helperl with news the Jets were interested. The special vibe he and his wife felt during that all-too-brief stay with the Moose was still a fresh memory. His new deal will pay him an NHL salary of US$750,000 and US$200,000 if he remains in the AHL.
“It was probably a matter of 15 minutes I had a phone call with my agent and I signed the contract right away because I knew an opportunity in Winnipeg — a place that means a lot to my wife and I — was a great fit and so it happened pretty quick,” he said. “I’m super excited that it got done and super excited to be heading back to the province where I was born and the place where my son was born.”
“I’m super excited that it got done and super excited to be heading back to the province where I was born and the place where my son was born.” – Ashton Sautner
His enthusiasm for the game remains undiminished, something that comes as no surprise to his dad.
Blaine Sautner was fresh out of Brandon University and four years with the Bobcats when he took a teaching job in Flin Flon while also serving as an assistant coach with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Bombers on the side. Ashton was born in the mining town and grew up as a rink rat at the Whitney Forum.
The family stayed in Manitoba for seven years before moving on to several other stops in the SJHL and Blaine’s final gig as head coach of the University of Regina Cougars.
“He was the little guy that came in the dressing room and helped tie skates and wipe the snow off the blades of all the Bombers hockey players around around the rink,” said Blaine, who now farms a massive 18,000-acre wheat and canola operation in addition to raising 500 head of cattle with his brother, Brad, near Flaxcombe, Sask. “So, he grew up kind of in that atmosphere of being around the dressing room and idolizing those players. I think that really gave him the love of the game that he has.”
Blaine is reminded that Ashton, who was signed with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent after an excellent junior career with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, has been underestimated for much of his career.
“It hasn’t been easy, I know that,” said Blaine. “He’s been sticking with it and fighting through some adversity and he’s learned a lot along the way and when you’re an eighth-round (WHL) bantam draft pick, there isn’t a lot of thought that this guy’s gonna come in and really help the program.”
Ashton expects to contribute wherever he is needed.
“I’m going into my eighth year of pro now, I’ve got some experience and I played in the playoffs before,” he said. “I’m just coming in and trying to bring all of that to the team, whether it’s in Manitoba with the Moose or getting an opportunity with the Jets. Whatever it might be, I’ll just be myself and do what I can to help whatever team I’m with to win.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.