No matter how many times I meet hockey players, I'm always surprised by how gracious, humble, and...well...normal they are. I always forget that hockey players are a different breed.
How did I get this picture of me and Rafalski and his silver medal, you ask? Well, it's a fun story...I guess. You see, working at a coffee shop for three years means that people start to know you. I have one close hockey friend who comes in every day and we always talk hockey. His name is Steve and he's a 68-year-old man from Georgia. Steve's son and Rafalski used to play pee wee hockey together, both on the same team and against each other.
Steve sent me an email on Thursday saying how Rafalski was going to be at a fundraiser for a politician running for Congress and asked if I wanted to go. It was $50 a head, but Steve said he would treat because he hadn't seen Rafalski (aside from watching Wings games, of course) since he left for college.
So we went. We went over to Rafalski and it took Rafs a second to recognize Steve (once he said his name, it clicked). And then I was introduced and shook his hand and said all the usual stuff like, "Oh, I'm a huge fan, blah blah blah." Rafs said that next week he's having the first back surgery he needs to help out the herniated disc. Good luck, Rafs.
After about fifteen minutes of talking one-on-one, we took pictures. He let me hold his silver medal and I made a comment about having to tell my friend interning with Philly, who got to hold Pronger's gold. Rafs laugh and said, "Well, she still one-upped you, though!" It's a sweet medal, not gonna lie. And then Rafs said he was starving and went to get in line for the buffet. Somehow, he was in line behind me, I still don't know how that happened.
Someone made a comment about my Red Wings earrings, so I said, "Yeah, I figured this was good enough. Coming in decked out in red might have been a little intimidating. But the guys at work this morning were surprised by the lack of red on me."
Rafs: "Oh, where do you work?"
Me: "Caribou Coffee. I'm the resident hockey fan there. ...I was Henrik Zetterberg for Halloween.*"
Me: "Yeah. My eyeliner beard threw people off. They thought I was a guy until I spoke."
Rafs: "Well, it was a great costume, then!"
So if anything, he'll remember that one crazy chick that said she was Hank for Halloween. Anyway, continuing on...
The politics of this political fundraiser were actually a little scarce, but I'm not big into politics, so I didn't mind at all. They had a Q&A session with Rafalski and the guy running for Congress. Some lady asked Rafs who she could contact to make the players hold their hands over their heart for the National Anthem. Rafalski handled it totally well (I, however, was all, "WTF, HALF OF THEM AREN'T AMERICAN!" in my mind) and professionally.
The politician asked why the Wings had slumped and then were suddenly good and I facepalmed. Injuries, man. Injuries. Which is what Rafs said, among other things. He also said it's glad to have his defense partner coming back for another season.
At another point, someone asked if there were any hilarious stories about things going on in the locker room. Rafs said there's always something ridiculous going on in there. Keeping everyone anonymous, he said that a player was late to practice once and to make him even later, another player decided to take all of the late guy's equipment and wrap it all up in tape.
I don't know who would have been running late, but I'm banking on it being Draper who did the taping. He seems the type.
Before it was all over, I did manage to get a signed puck and thank Rafs and say it was awesome meeting him, etc etc etc. All in all, it was a sweet experience. I hadn't been expecting much, but going with Steve, who knew Rafalski (and says he still makes the same mistakes he did when he was seven), it gave it more of a personal feel to it.
*Yes, I was Zetterberg this past Halloween. It was awesome. Have a comparison picture.