Karyn Bye Dietz, Brian Rafalski, Jeff Sauer and Lou Vairo have all crossed paths a number of times throughout their respective illustrious careers in ice hockey.
Now the four, each with Olympic or Paralympic ties, will be permanently linked together forever in hockey immortality.
Bye Dietz, Rafalski, Sauer and Vairo will be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame as the Class of 2014, USA Hockey announced Wednesday. The four will formally enter the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Dec. 4 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.
“The most important aspect of hockey has always been the team,” Vairo said. “When you can be inducted with teammates like Karyn, Brian and Jeff it makes it that much more special.”
The four are part of the 42nd class, a select group joining the 161 already-enshrined members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, which was incorporated in 1968 with the first class installed in 1973.
The enshrinement will be a homecoming of sorts for Sauer, a native of St. Paul, who now lives in Middleton, Wisconsin. He has spent more than 40 years coaching hockey and has experienced success at every level, most recently leading the U.S. sled hockey team to the Paralympic gold medal in March in Sochi, Russia.
“Winning the gold medal was probably the highlight of my career in relation to what I’ve been able to accomplish with different groups of players,” Sauer said. “I’ve never been involved with a group of athletes like I had with sled hockey players. It was a tremendous honor.
“To see what my players went through to win the gold medal in front of the world fans was incredibly exciting not only for me personally, but for the 17 guys and the coaching staff that was with me.”
Sauer also spent 31 years coaching NCAA Division I men’s college hockey, capturing a pair of national championships (1983, 1990) at the University of Wisconsin and ranking seventh all-time with 655 wins. In addition, Sauer, the president of the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, coached his alma mater, Colorado College, as well as multiple U.S. teams, including the 1995 U.S. men’s national team and the 2012 world champion sled team.
“It’s a very humbling experience to get to this level with all the great people who have been inducted,” Sauer said.
Rafalski, who is from Dearborn, Michigan, played for Sauer at Wisconsin, was a member of three U.S. Olympic Teams. He helped lead the Americans to silver medals in 2002 and 2010 and was honored as the tournament’s best defenseman in 2010. That type of big-game production was no surprise, as Rafalski reached the playoffs in each of his 11 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups, twice with the New Jersey Devils and once with the Detroit Red Wings.
“Throughout my whole career I had the opportunity to play with some of the best defensemen of all time,” Rafalski, whose 515 career points are 10th-best among American defensemen in NHL history, said. “I’m very humbled and very honored. It’s very exciting.”
“He was a guy you could count on in all situations and circumstances,” Sauer said. “In a critical situation, he was always the first guy you would pick and he did an excellent job for us.”
Bye Dietz, a native of River Falls, Wisconsin, is a pioneer in United States women’s hockey. She was one of the world’s elite forwards during her time on the U.S. women’s national team from 1992-2002 and played for Team USA at the 1998 and 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
Bye Dietz, who wanted to be an Olympian after watching the “Miracle on Ice” team win the gold medal in 1980, was an alternate captain in 1998, helping the United States win the first gold medal ever awarded in women’s ice hockey.
“Back in ’98, when I won the gold medal, never in my wildest dreams would I predict that I would be sitting here right now getting inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame,” Bye Dietz said.
At the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Bye Dietz tallied three goals and six points as the Americans captured the silver medal. She participated in six IIHF Women’s World Championships, winning silver medals at each, and became the fifth woman inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame.
“I’m incredibly honored to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2014,” Bye Dietz said.
Vairo, a native of Brooklyn, New York, has been instrumental in the development of U.S. hockey for six decades, coaching players at all levels. In the 1960s, Vairo was a leader in building grassroots programs in New York City and introduced the United States to European concepts of training in 1972, studying with legendary Soviet coach Anatoly Tarasov.
Vairo transitioned into coaching, where he eventually served as the coach of the U.S. men’s national team on five occasions. He was a scout on the gold medal-winning 1980 men’s team and an assistant with the 2002 men’s team that won the silver medal.
“I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter where you come from, if you really want to do something… if you believe in it, if you have a passion for it, you can do anything,” Vairo said.
Rafalski, Bye Dietz and Vairo all crossed paths again during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Rafalski was named to his first U.S. Olympic Team, Bye Dietz a member of her second U.S. Olympic Team and Vairo an assistant on the men’s side.
“For me, I got to play with a lot of guys I grew up watching,” Rafalski said. “It was a very high-profile team, a lot of great players, a great showing on home soil and getting the opportunity to play for Herb Brooks was a great honor and something I’ll cherish and remember.”
Vairo had similar memories of the team.
“That was a Hall of Fame team we had with a legendary coach in Herb Brooks heading it up,” Vairo said. “It’s always an honor to be involved in the Olympic Games and I just enjoyed the whole experience.”