Saturday, May 7, 2016

1999-00 New Jersey Devils Brian Rafalski Jersey

Rafalski's career began like many other future NHLers when 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 earned a bronze medal at the World Junior Tournament, the first of seven international tournaments the Michigan native would play for the United States.

Rafalski Wisconsin
Rafalski during his days as a Badger

The 1992-93 season saw him continue at Wisconsin as well as making a return to 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 to the 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 1995 World Championships, his first at the senior level.

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 for the 1995-96 season.

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 SM-Liiga championship in 1998. He was once again named Best Defenseman in the league in 1998-99, as he scored 53 points, an average of a point per game for HIFK. In a vote of the players, he was also awarded the Golden Helmet as the best player overall.

Rafalski HIFK photo RafalskiHIFK.jpg
Rafalski while with HIFK in Finland

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 to play in the NHL when he signed a free agent contract with the New Jersey Devils on this date in 1999 and finally began the delayed start to his NHL career as a now 26-year-old rookie for the 1999-00 season.

With the Devils, Rafalski was paired with team captain Scott Stevens, whose strong defensive skills allowed Rafalski the opportunity to take more risks offensively, 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 and was at least four and as many as seven years older than any of the other five members of the rookie team!

Rafalski 2000 Devils
A fine end to Rafalski's delayed rookie season

Rafalski 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. His best offensive season with the Devils was his last, 2006-07, when he totaled 55 points.

During his time with New Jersey, the Devils annual playoff appearances left little opportunity for him to play in the World Championships, but he was chosen to participate for the United States at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, where he won a silver medal. Two years later, he was again chosen to play for the US, this time at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. His second Olympics came in 2006 in Torino, Italy.

Rafalski 2006 Olympics photo RafalskiUSA2006.jpg
Rafalski during the 2006 Olympics

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, conclude with a championship in his very first season with a new team. With the high powered Red Wings, Rafalski set a career high with 59 points in 2008-09 after back to back 55 point seasons, which included an NHL career high 13 goals in 2007-08.

Rafalski Red Wings
Rafalski's third cup came with Detroit in 2008

His career would finish with two more seasons with the Red Wings. which would bring his final career totals to 833 NHL games played, 79 goals and 436 assists for 515 points. In all, Rafalski would play 11 NHL seasons despite the late start as a result of his going undrafted. He has more than proven the scouts wrong who thought him too small, as in addition to his three Stanley Cups and over 500 points, Rafalski qualified for the playoffs in each of his 11 seasons and registered an additional 100 points over the course of his career.

Rafalski was again named to Team USA for the 2010 Olympics, earning his second silver medal as well as being named Best Defenseman of the competition.

Rafalski USA
Rafalski was recognized for his outstanding play
in the 2010 Olympics as Best Defenseman

Today's featured jersey is a 1999-00 New Jersey Devils Brian Rafalski jersey as worn when the Devils captured the Stanley Cup Rafalski's 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. Also worth noting is that this jersey is made by ProPlayer, who supplied jerseys to NHL clubs for only the 1999-00 season.

New Jersey Devils 1999-00 SCF jersey photo NewJerseyDevils1999-00FSCFjersey.jpg
New Jersey Devils 1999-00 SCF jersey photo NewJerseyDevils1999-00BSCFjersey.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2002-03 New Jersey Devils Brian Rafalski jersey as worn when the Devils captured their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Sharp eyed readers will note that the Devils jersey hasn't changed much since 2000, and that's because it hasn't changed since being introduced in 1992, and if Devils president Lou Lamoriello  has it's way, it will still be the same in 2092, as New Jersey has resisted all pressure to add a third jersey or redesign their current home and road set, even during the transition to the new Reebok Edge jerseys in 2007, when vertical stripes were in and horizontal stripes were out.

New Jersey Devils 2002-03 SCF jersey photo NewJerseyDevils2002-03SCFjersey.jpg
Photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings Brian Rafalski jersey as worn by the defending Stanley Cup champions Red Wings following the third NHL championship of Rafalski's career.

 photo DetroitRedWings2007-08Fjersey.jpg
Detroit Red Wings 2007-08 jersey photo DetroitRedWings2007-08Bjersey.jpg

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.

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