Saturday, May 7, 2011
Brian Rafalski's career began like many other future NHLers, as he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin for the 1991-92 season, after which he was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team. That same season he also participated in the World Junior Tournament for the United States.
The 1992-93 season saw him continue at Wisconsin as well as make a return appearance at the World Juniors. As he gained experience and confidence, his point totals began to increase, up from 13 to 23 for 1993-94 and nearly doubling to 45 for 1994-95, a season during which Rafalski was named WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and WCHA First All-Star Team and helped Wisconsin win the WCHA playoff title. Following the completion of his college career, Rafalski once more skated for the United States, this time at the World Championships.
Despite his noteworthy resume, Rafalski, at 5' 10", was considered too small and went undrafted by the NHL. Still eager to continue his hockey career, he joined Brynas IF in Sweden.
After one season in Sweden, he moved to HPK in Finland. There, he had a solid offensive season for a defenseman with 35 points in 49 games and was given the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy as Best Defenseman in the SM-Liiga.
Establishing a knack for choosing the right situation throughout his career, Rafalski joined HIFK of Helsinki and promptly won the league championship in 1998. He once again was named Best Defenseman in the league for the 1998-99 season while still with HIFK, as he scored 53 points, an average of a point per game. In a vote of the players, he was also awarded the Golden Helmet as the best player overall.
Having proven himself as a capable player, including being named by The Sporting News as the best hockey player in the world not playing in the NHL, Rafalski realized his dream on this date in 1999, as he signed a free agent contract with the New Jersey Devils, with whom he finally began the delayed start to his NHL career as a now 26-year-old rookie.
With the Devils, Rafalski was paired with team captain Scott Stevens, whose strong defensive skills allowed Rafalski the opportunity to take more risks in an effort to score, resulting in 32 points by season's end.
Once more, his change in clubs paid immediate dividends, as the Devils captured the Stanley Cup at the end of Rafalski's first season in the NHL, which included being named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. He was at least four and as many as seven years older than any of the other five members of the rookie team.
He would go on to play seven seasons with the Devils, which included another Stanley Cup championship in 2003 and an appearance in the NHL All-Star Game in in 2004 and a second one in 2007.
For the 2007-08, Rafalski signed with his hometown Detroit Red Wings in another change to a club that would, for the third time in Rafalski's career, end with a championship at the conclusion of his very first season with his new team. With the high powered Red Wings, Rafalski set a career high to date with 59 points in 2008-09 after back to back 55 point seasons.
Internationally, Rafalski was named to Team USA for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and has played in three Olympics for the Americans, in 2002, 2006 and 2010, earning silver medals in both 2002 and 2010 as well as being named Best Defenseman of the 2010 tournament.
He is now 11 years into his NHL career despite the late start as a result of his going undrafted and more than proven the scouts wrong who thought him too small, as in addition to his three Stanley Cups, Rafalski now has scored over 500 regular season and 100 points during the NHL playoffs over the course of his career.
Today's featured jersey is a 1999-00 New Jersey Devils Brian Rafalski jersey as worn during the Stanley Cup Finals of his rookie season in the NHL.
Of note, this jersey has the NHL 2000 patch, which all the players wore that season, plus the addition of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals patch, which was added to the Devils and Dallas Stars jerseys for the finals.
Also worth noting is that this jersey is a ProPlayer brand, who supplied jerseys to NHL clubs for only that one season.
Today's video segment begins with an interview with Rafalski while still a member of HIFK just prior to the 1999 SM-Liiga Finals while knowing he had already signed with New Jersey. There is also some very artistic footage of him eating a McDonald's hamburger.
Nest is a compilation of goals scored by Rafalski while playing in Finland.
Finally an interview with Rafalski as he talks about his career, starting with Wisconsin and how he ended up playing in Europe. It then continues with the time he has spent with soldiers and veterans of the armed forces.