Aug. 6, 2014
MADISON, Wis. -- Hockey is in the blood of the two Wisconsin men's hockey connections in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2014. Jeff Sauer, who was born in Fort Atkinson, coached the Badgers to a pair of NCAA titles and most recently the U.S. Sled Hockey Team to gold at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Brian Rafalski, who once skated for the first version of the USHL's Madison Capitols, is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a three-time U.S. Olympian and is currently involved in passing along his hockey knowledge to the next generation of Rafalskis.
Joining the Badger duo in the class of 2014 are Karyn Bye Dietz, a River Falls, Wisconsin, native who was part of the 1998 U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning women's hockey team, and Lou Vairo, a Brooklyn, New York, native who has been involved with the game at every level and throughout the world. Bye Dietz was part of the festivities in 1999 that ushered in the women's hockey era at Wisconsin as an attendee at the program's first contest.
"The class of 2014 is an extraordinary collection of individuals that have had an immensely positive impact on hockey in our country," said Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey. "Cumulatively, they have been involved at every level of hockey and this group is a big reason why our sport has advanced to the point it has in the United States."
Rafalski skated four seasons at Wisconsin from 1991-95, posting 100 points on 20 goals and 80 assists in 150 games played. A 1995 First-Team All-American, he was also the 1995 WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and a member of that year's All-WCHA first team when he helped the program win the 1995 WCHA playoffs. His first year as a Badger in 1991-92 netted the Dearborn, Michigan, native a spot on the 1992 All-WCHA Rookie Team.
"I'm very humbled and honored to be selected to the hall of fame," Rafalski said. "It is very rewarding for myself. I wasn't really expecting this, but going forward it is good to see USA Hockey grow - working with the younger players now. Growing up, we watched 1980 and hopefully now we can pass the torch on to the younger generation. You see the success USA Hockey has had over the last 5-10 years and it just continues to grow. It is very exciting."
Rafalski went on to a 15-year professional career, including 11 seasons in the NHL. His NHL career began in style as his New Jersey Devils captured the 2000 Stanley Cup and he was named to the NHL All-Rookie team. He repeated the team performance in 2003 as the Devils won their second Cup in four seasons. He spent his final four NHL seasons with his hometown Detroit Red Wings, winning his third Stanley Cup in 2008. He finished his career with 515 career points, which ranks 10th-best among American defensemen in NHL history. He was also selected to skate in three NHL All-Star contests, though he missed one due to an injury.
Rafalski skated in Finland and Sweden for four seasons and was named the Finnish Elite League's top defenseman before returning to North American and joining the NHL.
Internationally, Rafalski was a member of the U.S. Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Team at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games. He helped Team USA earn the silver medal at the 2002 and 2010 Olympics. At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Rafalski was named to the media all-star team and was honored as the tournament's best defenseman by the directorate after tallying four goals and eight points in six games. Across three Olympics, he tallied five goals and eight assists in 17 contests. He also played for the 2004 U.S. World Cup of Hockey Team, 1995 U.S. Men's National Team, and 1992 (bronze medal) and 1993 U.S. National Junior Teams.
Sauer, who grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and now calls Middleton home, has spent more than 40 years coaching hockey, and has had nothing but success in his varied endeavors. Sauer's 31-year NCAA Division I men's college coaching career featured 655 wins (seventh all-time) and two national championships, both of which came at Wisconsin (1983, 1990). Sauer led UW to three NCAA Men's Frozen Four appearances, 12 NCAA tournament berths, six WCHA playoff titles and two WCHA regular-season crowns in 20 seasons (1982-2002). He also spent 11 years (1971-82) as head coach of the men's ice hockey team at his alma mater, Colorado College, where he was twice named WCHA Coach of the Year (1972, 1975). Throughout his college career, he served as head coach for multiple U.S. squads, including the 1995 U.S. Men's National Team and U.S. teams that participated in the 1990 Goodwill Games, 1989 Pravada Cup and 1997 Tampere Cup.
"I'm very honored to be selected," Sauer said. "I thank USA Hockey for the honor and I look forward to the induction ceremonies in December.
"I would also like to thank all the players and coaches and folks that were along for the ride, so to speak, over the course of time. My dad said I never had a real job and to this day I really have never had a real job. I've always enjoyed going to work and being a part of hockey and especially being a part of USA Hockey. It has been a real honor."
The 2014-15 season is Sauer's fourth campaign as head coach of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. He led the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2012 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship. Two years later, he was at the helm of the gold-medal winning 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team in Sochi, Russia. Additionally, Sauer is president of the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association. He helped select the last five U.S. Deaflympic Ice Hockey Teams, while leading the team as head coach in the last three Winter Deaflympics, including a gold medal at the 2007 Deaflympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Sauer has been honored with USA Hockey's Distinguished Achievement Award (2000), the American Hockey Coaches Association's John "Snooks" Kelly Founders Award (2004) and the NHL's Lester Patrick Trophy (2011). He has also been inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame, the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado College Athletic Hall of Fame.
The group of four officially go into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Dec. 4 in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Details are still forthcoming.
The addition of Sauer and Rafalski brings the number of Badgers in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame to eight. The duo join Chris Chelios and Gary Suter, who were inducted in 2011, as well as Mike Richter (2008), Mark Johnson (2004, 2003 with 1980 Olympic Team), Bob Suter (2003 with 1980 Olympic Team) and Bob Johnson (1991).