Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 20
The Stanley Cup Journal

(July 25, 2003) — When he signed with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent in June 1999, The Hockey News called Brian Rafalski "…the best defenseman not playing in the NHL." Rafalski had been a standout during his four seasons as a Badger with the University of Wisconsin. He then starred in Finland for three seasons before he joined the Devils. Some might say he was Finnish-ed before he started.
Brian Rafalski celebrates the championship at his home in Waupaca, Wisconsin with Cup Keeper Walt Neubrand.

When the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 2000, the Dearborn-born Rafalski took the Stanley Cup to his Michigan hometown to celebrate. This year, Brian decided to share the championship trophy with his adopted state of Wisconsin -- the state in which he collected his degree in economics, the state in which he met his wife Felicity and the state in which he now lives during the off-season.

The Stanley Cup flew into Milwaukee on Saturday morning, and if there was any doubt in which Midwest state it had arrived, one needed look no further than the cheesehead headgear in every souvenir shop on the three-hour drive to Waupaca.

Brian and Felicity and their boys Danny and Evan had fallen in love with a cottage property on Round Lake, near Waupaca. When the home was put up for sale, the Rafalskis were quick to buy it, and in doing so, increased Round Lake's population to 871. Brian made plans to bring the Stanley Cup to their new home this year.

For a hockey player with great hands, the truth can now be told that Brian fumbled the Stanley Cup in 2000 and although there was no damage, it certainly scared all those nearby. When Walt Neubrand from the Hockey Hall of Fame drove up to the cottage on Saturday, Felicity handed her husband a pair of Stanley rubberized gloves to make certain the cherished trophy didn't hit the ground again. "Here you go, honey. You might want to wear these this year," she smiled, playfully. "Ha ha - very funny, Felicity! Who gave you those?" Brian smirked, "At least you got the right brand!" Everyone laughed when they realized that the Stanley gloves were there to handle the Stanley Cup.

The Stanley Cup looks on as Brian Rafalski and pals enjoy a game of volleyball.
With the Cup set up on the nearby dock, Felicity, Brian and his best friend from Los Angeles, Rob, played beach volleyball on the edge of the lake. It was a beautiful day and a relaxing way to start the Stanley Cup's visit to the area. By late afternoon, the group tucked into the house to dress for a private dinner party for close family and friends that evening at Foxfire on the Green, the excellent restaurant at the Foxfire Golf Course. Several of the invited guests had driven the eight hours into Waupaca from Brian's hometown of Dearborn. Foxfire is a beautiful golf course and a stunning background to an outstanding restaurant. Although a sign on the door read 'PRIVATE PARTY,' several people peeked into the room and were dumbstruck to see the Stanley Cup. One elderly couple glanced into the restaurant and proceeded to walk right in. But before Felicity could ask them to leave, the couple inquired, "Excuse me, but where are the coffee cups?" Felicity responded, "I'm very sorry, but this is a private party. That's the Stanley Cup," to which the gentleman, shocked, said, "Oh my, we do apologize, but I thought that was an ornate coffee urn!"

Brian Rafalski tees off at his tournament at the Foxfire Golf Club.
Following dinner, the group returned to the cottage on Round Lake. Then, the party kicked into high gear. Brian had large pontoon boats ready to make the trip over to the Wheelhouse Restaurant. When the revelers piled onto the boat, waves curled up onto the deck. Some wiseguy put a life preserver on the Stanley Cup, although there was no danger of the Cup going into the drink. The bar was rockin', with the Rhythm Dogs providing the soundtrack to the party with some fine, fine r&b. Fans got a chance to drink out of the Stanley Cup, too. Later, Brian and the group took the Stanley Cup over to the Harbor Bar and sat the Cup on the patio overlooking the lake. Again, Rafalski shared the Cup with fans, allowing guests to drink out of the historic bowl. As the hands of the clock indicated 3AM, Brian thanked the fans and took the Cup back to his lakefront home.

A seven-thirty tee-off comes early at the best of times, but when you've been out celebrating half the night before, that sun is hard to take through half-opened eyes. Yet, six groups of four took part in Brian Rafalski's golf tournament back at Foxfire. The course has a beautiful but challenging terrain, surrounded by mounds, ponds and natural fescue grasses. The Stanley Cup was set near the cup on the second hole, and the golfer who drove his or her ball closest to the Cup won bragging rights. Brian's buddy John, who had driven in from the Detroit area, won the contest, placing his ball five feet from the gleaming Stanley Cup.

Following the game, Brian had arranged to do an autograph signing at Foxfire on the Green. Brian and Felicity had been touched by the story of MaKenna Hausser. The darling two-year old was born with a congenital heart defect and endured her first of three operations at just nine days old. Her most recent surgery was July 12, and she is recuperating at Children's Hospital in Milwaukee. Brian encouraged donations be made to assist MaKenna and her Mom and Dad, Sara and Jay Hausser of nearby Bonduel. Although two hours had been isolated, it took three hours for Brian to ensure that each fan got an autograph and a photograph with the Stanley Cup. When the afternoon was over, $10,000 had been raised to help MaKenna. "She's a real little fighter and we want to help her any way we can," Rafalski mentioned. "Jay and Sara are good friends of Felicity and mine."

Sunday evening, Brian retired back to the cottage with the Cup. A little more beach volleyball with family and friends, then it was time for a catered dinner. It had been a long day, and Brian and his guests were exhausted. They relaxed over a good meal, then wound down the day. The Stanley Cup had another stop to make, so Brian Rafalski, his wife and friends said their goodbyes and sent the Cup on its way. The trophy's destination was Cloquet, Minnesota, just twenty minutes outside hockey-mad Duluth, where Devils' star Jamie Langenbrunner waited anxiously for his turn with the Stanley Cup.

On Monday, discover how retired NHL forward Corey Millen influenced Jamie Langenbrunner's Stanley Cup celebration when you return to the Stanley Cup Journal.

Kevin Shea is a Toronto-based hockey writer and historian of the game.

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