History of Jersey 83-93 Banner sm photo History of Jersey 83-93 Banner sm.jpg

Saturday, May 12, 2012

2012 World Championships Update

It's been quite an exciting 48 hours at the 2012 IIHF World Championships. First, the United States threw away a point by allowing winless Kazakhstan to take them to overtime on Friday morning. Fortunately for the Americans and their fans, they managed to score the game winner with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime and avoid the unpredictable shootout.

Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic was defeating overmatched Italy at the same time by a score of 6-0 in Group S play.

After a break, the evening games got underway, featuring two fine matchups that frankly should have been slotted in for the final day of group play based on the pre-tournament rankings.

In their game with Canada, Finland led 2-0 after one period and 3-1 at the halfway point of the game. Canada then got goals from John Tavares and Jeff Skinner to even the game by the second intermission.

After trailing for over a half an hour, Canada finally had their first lead at the 6:04 mark of the third and added an empty net goal in the final 30 seconds to ruin the host Finland's perfect record and take first place in the group.

Meanwhile in Stockholm, Sweden scored first in their game with Russia at 5:57 before Alexander Popov tied it at at 10:27. Sweden's Henrik Zetterberg (at 14:33 of the first) and his Detroit Red Wings teammate Johan Franzen (at 9:36 of the second) pushed Sweden out to a 3-1 lead, but the second half of the game was a disaster for Sweden, as Evgeny Malkin's goal at he sixteen minute mark was followed by Alexi Yemelin's equalizer at 18:27, just like Canada's comeback in Helsinki.

Russia, Russia

It would take Russia only 15 seconds of the third period to surge ahead, a lead added to by Malkin at 2:40. He completed his hat trick at 11:08 and another goal just after the expiration of a power play with just under a minute to go make the final score 7-2 as the home team fell with a mighty thud for the second time after leading by two at the half way point of the game.

Today's first game had favored Slovakia defeat Belarus 5-1 followed by a surprise, as Norway had three even strength goals in support of goalkeeper Lars Haugen, who shut out Latvia 3-0 to leapfrog them for the final playoff spot in Group S.

Perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament to date came next, as the French got out to a 2-0 lead before Switzerland tied the game with a pair of goals by Damien Brunner in under two minutes. The turning point came early in the third period, as Goran Bezina was sent off for checking to the head, giving France a power play, during which they scored twice in 44 seconds to give them all the margin they would need as they turned the game over to NHL veteran Christobal Huet who made 41 saves for the win.

France, France

Germany fell behind 1-0 to Denmark but came back to win 2-1 in their Group S game to keep Denmark winless and give each team 5 games played up to this point.

The two late games were one sided affairs, as Canada avoided the same effort which cost the United States as they romped to an 8-0 win over Kazakhstan and Sweden downed Italy 4-0 to rebound from their second half collapse against Russia.

Group H sees Canada (with an extra game played) atop the group with 16 points, followed by Finland at 12. The United States has 10 points and is trailed bySlovakia at 9 in the final playoff position. France and Switzerland are tied at 6 points, both with a 2-3 record, but both with games against Slovakia still remaining as a key opportunity to claim the final playoff spot.

Belarus has 3 points from their win over Kazakhstan, who look to have relegation in their future, as they have just 1 point and only a final game against Finland remaining which they must win in regulation to have any hope of survival.

The Group S standings favor Russia, who has 15 points and a win and a game in hand over Sweden, also at 15. The Czech Republic are looking very secure with 11 points in third, but Norway is engaged in a real battle for the all-important fourth position.

Norway has 7 points, closely followed by Latvia and Germany with 6. A key games for those three include Norway and Germany facing off on Sunday.

In the relegation struggle, Italy holds the edge with 2 points over Denmark's 1. The Danes have chances to add points with games remaining with Latvia and Norway, while Italy has a lone game remaining with powerhouse Russia. Assuming Italy falls in regulation, just getting to overtime twice would allow Denmark to remain in the top division for 2013.

1976-77 Houston Aeros Ron Grahame jersey

The third season of play in the World Hockey Association in 1974-75 saw the league still in a period of growth, as the league added both the Indianapolis Racers and the Phoenix Roadrunners, brining the number of clubs up to 14 from it's original 12.

While the league was not without it's issues that season, mainly the failure of the Michigan Stags, who were 18-40-3 in Detroit before folding in January and resurfacing a week later as the league-owned Baltimore Blades to complete the season with a dismal 3-13-1 run, there were many bright spots at the time.

Franchises in Quebec, Winnipeg, Edmonton, New England, Cleveland, Houston and Minnesota were all enjoying competitive play and healthy attendance at the time.

League scoring leader Andre Lacroix was the star attraction in San Diego, while the line of Bobby Hull and Swedish imports Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg were generating excitement not only in Winnipeg, but in the world of hockey as a whole. Gordie Howe was grabbing headlines in the world of sports playing his second season with his son's Mark and Marty in Houston.

Gordie Mark Marty Howe, Gordie Mark Marty Howe
The Howe Family, Gordie, Mark and Marty

With the addition of the two new clubs, the league expanded from two divisions to three, with the Canadian, Eastern and Western Divisions. The playoff format called for the top two teams in each division, regardless of record, to qualify for the playoffs, along with the best two clubs of the remaining eight.

Advancing from the Canadian Division were both the Quebec Nordiques (who had a second overall 92 points) and the Toronto Toros (88 points). The weak Eastern Division supplied the formidable New England Whalers (91 points) and the sub-.500 Cleveland Crusaders, who had only 73 points, who benefitted from the top two in each division rule, as they actually had less points than Winnipeg (81), Vancouver (76) and Edmonton (76), all of whom failed to qualify for the postseason!

The strongest division was definitely the Western Division, which sent the Houston Aeros (with a best overall 106 points), San Diego (90) and at-large qualifiers, the Minnesota Fighting Saints (87) and first year Phoenix Roadrunners (86).

1974-75 Phoenix Roadrunners team, 1974-75 Phoenix Roadrunners team
The inaugural 1974-75 Phoenix Roadrunners

The Quarterfinals saw the Aeros open their playoffs with an opening game loss to Cleveland, but then win four in a row to advance past the lowest seeded Crusaders 4 games to 1 to set up a meeting with the Mariners, who ousted the Toros 4-2.

The Whalers were upset by Minnesota 4-2 and their reward was to face the Nordiques after they defeated the Roadrunners 4-1.

In the semifinals, Houston cruised past the Mariners in four straight, which included two lopsided shutouts 4-0 and 6-0, to earn their place in the finals and the opportunity to defend their championship won the previous season.

The other Semifinal was a bit unusual, as the the teams alternated clear cut wins over the course of the first five games, with every game being decided by at least two goals or more. Finally, Quebec put Minnesota away with a Game 6 win on the road by a score of 4-2, their second win on the road in three tries during the series.

The Aeros and Nordiques began their battle for the Avco World Trophy on May 3, 1975, with went the way of the Aeros 6-2 in Houston. Game 2 was the final Aeros game at the Sam Houston Coliseum, and they sent their first home out in style with a 5-3 victory as the series moved to Canada.

Goaltender Ron Grahame, who led the WHA in wins, shutouts and goals against average, shut out leading scorer Serge Bernier and the Nordiques 2-0 in Quebec to take a commanding 3 games to none lead.

Grahame Aeros, Grahame Aeros
Ron Grahame

Game 4, played on this date in 1975, was all Aeros, as they broke loose for a dominating 7-2 win to win their 12th straight playoff game and second consecutive championship.

Gordie Howe opened the scoring with his 7th playoff goal at 2:41 with the Aeros up a man. Quebec countered with a power play goal at 6:01. Mark Howe's power play goal at 12:18 put Houston back on top to stay and a Gord Labossiere goal with just seven seconds remaining in the first Houston into the locker room with a now two goal margin.

Gordie Howe's second of the game arrived midway through the second. Rejean Houle's second goal for Quebec gave them a glimmer of hope at 14:51 only to have Frank Hughes counter at 16:52 for a 5-2 Aeros lead after two despite begin outshot 30-23.

With Grahame holding the Nordiques at bay, goals by Larry Lund at 14:06 and Hughes on the power play at 18:30 sealed the victory and the championship for the Aeros.

Mark Howe led the Aeros in playoff scoring with 10 goals and 22 points in the Aeros 13 games, followed by father Gordie's 20 points. Regular season leading scorer Lund came next with 18. Grahame finished with a stellar 12-1 record, which included 3 shutouts, with a .941 save percentage and a goals against average of exactly 2.00 and even picking up an assist along the way.

Grahame would win the WHA Playoff MVP Award as well as the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the Best Goaltender for the 1974-75 season (his first of two, the other coming in 1977) in addition to being named the league's First Team All-Star Goaltender.

"All I wanted to do was repay the organization more than anything," Grahame said. "The best way to do that was to put the Aeros name back on the Avco Trophy. I've never played this many games together and won like this. With the defense we have, it's no secret why we won. Larry Hale, John Schella and Poul Popiel block shots or force play wide, resulting in long shots from the side. If I can't stop those shots, I shouldn't be playing."

He would be joined on the first team by Gordie Howe at right wing and defenseman Popiel on the Second Team.

Today's featured jersey is a 1976-77 Houston Aeros Ron Grahame jersey. This jersey, with it's single color, non-serifed font for the name on the back identifies at as being from either the 1975-76 or 1976-77 seasons, the latter of which saw Grahame win this second WHA Best Goaltender award. For their back-to-back championship seasons of 1974 and 1975, the names on the back of the Aeros jerseys used a thicker, serifed font for the names.

Houston Aeros 76-77 jersey, Houston Aeros 76-77 jersey

Today's video section is the Aeros from 1975-76, taking on the Winnipeg Jets, and staging an unreal comeback to win the game. And there was much rejoicing, which included something we've never seen before, a football style spike of the puck!

Friday, May 11, 2012

1981 Sweden National Team Ulf Nilsson Jersey

Part of the first ground breaking group of European players to compete in North America, Ulf Nilsson, born on this date in 1950, first began his career with AIK in Stockholm, Sweden in the 1967-68 season. He would play seven seasons with AIK through the 1973-74 season. During that period of time Nilsson would make his international debut for Sweden, first at the 1972 Izvestia Cup in Moscow and later the 1973 World Championships, where he impressed with 5 goals and 8 points in 10 games and his way to a silver medal.

After his final season with AIK, he again participated in the 1974 World Championships, this time earning a bronze.

Elsewhere in the world of hockey, big changes were happening. The 12 team NHL had grown to 14 in 1970 and then the World Hockey Association came into being, competing directly with the NHL with 12 teams of their own, all looking to stock their rosters with talent.

WHA logo photo WHA_Logo.png

The war between the established, if not staid, National Hockey League and the upstart WHA was fully engaged when the WHA, looking to make a splash, did so in 1972 by singing Chicago Black Hawks star Bobby Hull for $1 million to play for the Winnipeg Jets, an astronomical amount in those days.

For the 1974-75 season, the WHA added two more clubs, while the NHL felt compelled to expand with two additional teams of their own in an attempt to occupy markets deemed strategically attractive to the WHA. The net result was professional hockey in North America expanding from just 12 teams in 1969-70 to 32 in a mere five years, a more than 250% increase, creating the need for roughly 400 more players.

While many, many career minor leaguers got opportunities to get off the buses and fly on the airplanes of the major leagues, other teams were more daring and creative in their methods of stocking their rosters, such as looking to American colleges for players.

As the expansion of both leagues continued, teams now began to look beyond the borders of North America for really the first time. There had been the odd cases of players born in Europe who migrated to Canada in their youth, and even some Europeans who had brief stays in the NHL, but Europeans were generally regarded as inferior players who were not tough enough to survive in the NHL.

That stereotype began to fade in 1973 with the arrival in Toronto of left wing Inge Hammarstrom and even more so defenseman Borje Salming, who would go on to play 17 seasons in the NHL. Hammarstrom would play in six NHL seasons and score a high of 24 goals and 43 points, but did not set the world on fire.

With Europe becoming a new source for talent, the idea was embraced by the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA, who signed both Nilsson and fellow Swede Anders Hedberg for the 1974-75 season. Teamed with star Hull, their impact was immediate and the result was simply the most dynamic line in the history of the WHA.

Anders Heberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull set the hockey world on fire
The trio would light up scoreboards all over the league, with each player reaching 100 points. Hull would finish second in WHA scoring with an electrifying 142 points, which included a league leading 77 goals, while Nilsson would finish fourth (26 G, 94 A, 120 P) while Hedberg was seventh with 100 points, ahead of the likes of established veterans Gordie Howe and defending scoring champion Mike Walton.

For the 1975-76 season, Hull, Nilsson and Hedberg would finish an identical 2nd, 4th and 7th with Nilsson raising his goal total up to 38. Once in the post season, the Jets were an unstoppable force, sweeping the Edmonton Oilers before taking down the Calgary Cowboys 4 games to 1 before crushing the Houston Aeros in a four game sweep, giving the Jets the Avco World Trophy thanks to a 12-1 playoff record, as the line combined for 32 goals and 65 points in 13 games with Nilsson begin named as the Playoff MVP .

Nilsson Jets, Nilsson Jets
A rare shot of Nilsson without Hedberg

Nilsson was again chosen as a member of the Swedish National Team, this time for the inaugural Canada Cup in the fall of 1976, scoring 2 points in 5 games.

Hull would miss extended time in 1976-77 with an injury, but Nilsson and Hedberg would not be derailed, as they would finish second and third in scoring, with Hedberg leading Nilsson 131 to 124. Hull would return in time for the playoffs, and the Jets would advance all the way to the finals, but fall short in a seventh game in their attempt to defend their championship.

It was Nilsson's turn to lead the trio in scoring for 1977-78 when he set a career high with 126 points, thanks to a league leading 89 assists and he, Hedberg and Hull finished 3rd, 4th and 5th in league scoring. By then the WHA was shrinking in size, and the Jets only required two playoff rounds to knock out the Birmingham Bulls 4 games to 1 before sweeping the New England Whalers in 4 straight games to once again become the champions of the WHA.

Hull, Hedberg & Nilsson Winnipeg Jets, Hull, Hedberg & Nilsson Winnipeg Jets
Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson celebrating their second championship

With their contracts having expired and the WHA on the ropes, down to just seven teams from 14 three seasons earlier, Hedberg and Nilsson signed with the New York Rangers of the considerably more stable NHL for the 1978-79 season.
Hedberg, Shero and Nilsson photo Hedberg Shero Nilsson Rangers.jpg
Hedberg, coach Fred Shero and Nilsson at their introduction to New York

Nilsson would never reach the scoring heights he achieved with Winnipeg, as he was hit with a series of injuries, particularly one caused by a hit from the New York Islanders Denis Povtin, which became the source of the "Potvin sucks!" chants which continue in Manhattan to this day after a hit which ended Nilsson season while leading the Rangers in scoring at the time.

Nilsson was limited him to no more than 59 games during his four seasons with the Rangers, but when healthy, he did average more than a point per game in his first two seasons, scoring 66 points in 59 games in 1978-79 and 58 points in the 50 games he played in 1979-80.

Nilsson Rangers, Nilsson Rangers
Nilsson as a "blueshirt" while with the Rangers 
Note the "New York" cresting worn from 1978-1987

He also was a member of the NHL All-Star Team in the 1979 Challenge Cup against the Soviet National Team, played in the Rangers home of Madison Square Garden in place of the traditional NHL All-Star Game.

His offense began to decline in 1980-81 with 39 points in 51 game, but he had a fine postseason, scoring 8 goals and 16 points in 14 games.

Nilsson Rangers, Nilsson Rangers
Nilsson spent four seasons with the Rangers

While his obligations to the Jets and Rangers during the spring playoff season prevented him from ever taking part in the World Championships after coming to play in North America, Nilsson was able to get one final chance to play for Sweden in the 1981 Canada Cup, which was held in the fall prior to the start of the NHL season. In his final international appearance, he scored 3 points in 4 games.

Nilsson Sweden photo Nilsson Sweden Canada Cup.jpg
Nilsson during the 1991 Canada Cup playing for Sweden

That would unfortunately be the final highlight of his career, as the subsequent 1981-82 season consisted of just a pair of games with the Springfield Indians of the AHL due to his injury situation and his 1982-93 season saw his career wind down with 3 games with the CHL's Tulsa Oilers and a final 10 games with the Rangers, which showed one final flash of his abilities with 6 points.

Nilsson would finish his career in North America with a combined 470 WHA and NHL games played, 197 goals and 456 assists for 655 points, most of which came during his electrifying and unforgettable run in Winnipeg, which paved the way for the large influx of Europeans to follow.

Hedberg and Nilsson Rangers photo Hedberg Nilsson Rangers.jpg
The seemingly inseparable Hedberg and Nilsson

Today's featured jersey is a 1981 Sweden National Team Ulf Nilsson jersey as worn during the 1981 Canada Cup tournament during the time period where Sweden temporarily lost it's way and stopped using the timeless "The Kronor" (Three Crowns) cresting in favor of a graphic which looked far too much like a paid sponsorship logo.

The rest of the jersey is pure Sweden however, with it's vibrant yellow body and blue trim. The somewhat busy numbers on the back are typical of the period, with the numbers being not only three color (blue, yellow, blue), but then given a three dimensional effect as well.

Sweden 1981 jersey, Sweden 1981 jersey
Sweden 1981 jersey, Sweden 1981 jersey

In today's video section, "The Hot Line" of Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson are reunited on the occasion of their introduction into the WHA Hall of Fame.

Next, Nilsson being interviewed soon after becoming a New York Ranger.

Here is Nilsson being hit by Potvin, an injury which would be the beginning of the end of his career.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

1980 United States Tim Harrer Jersey

Tim Harrer, born on this date in 1957, played high school hockey at Bloomington Lincoln High School in Minnesota and was named an All-State player as a junior. That attracted the attention of the coach of the University of Minnesota, Herb Brooks, who offered Harrer a scholarship for the 1976-77 season to join the defending national champion Golden Gophers.

"Our practices lated forever. The more you practice and the more you play with better players, the quicker you improve," Harrer recalled. "If you're not competitive, you just get weeded out."

He earned the Gophers Rookie of the Year award after playing in 38 games and scoring 14 goals and 23 points as a freshman. His potential did not go unnoticed and Harrer was drafted by the Atlanta Flames in the 1977 NHL Amateru Draft, as well as being selected by the Calgary Cowboys in the 1977 WHA Amateur Draft.

He returned to Minnesota for a second season, nearly doubling his point total with 22 goals and 43 points in 1977-78, good for second on the team. The following season Harrer took another leap forward with 28 goals and 53 points, a season capped off with a 4-3 win over North Dakota in the NCAA National Championship Final, giving Minnesota the championship in Brooks final game as their head coach.

Harrer Minnesota, Harrer Minnesota

While Brooks was off to lead the United States Olympic team for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, Harrer was now a senior at Minnesota.

For the 1979-80 season, he absolutely caught fire, setting a team record which still stands today, 32 years later, when he scored 53 goals in 41 games. Additionally, he added 29 assists for 82 points to lead Minnesota in scoring. His 53 goals ranks as the fifth highest in NCAA history and earned him the WCHA's Most Valuable Player Award and All-America First Team recognition, which earned him a place on one of the Gophers' Mariucci Arena murals.

Mariucci Mural #2, Mariucci Mural #2

Also during 1979, Harrer was famously brought in by Brooks to compete with the United States Olympic Team during the latter stages of their preparation for the Games, either to replace a struggling Mike Eruzione or perhaps just to light a fire under his team. Wither way, the move had a desirable effect, as it brought the players who had gone through all of Brooks' intense training and practices closer together, and Eruzione stayed at Harrer's expense after his four games with the Olympic team, which included a goal and 4 points.

Brooks kept searching, and when Eruzione hit his drought, he found a willing pair of freshman forwards: Tim Harrer and Aaron Broten from the U. Brooks had recruited both of them, and both were players with speed and skill and explosive scoring ability. Brooks's plan was to tell the press that Eruzione had injured his back, then make his erstwhile captain an assistant coach; that way he could still be in Lake Placid and contribute to the team. When the coach laid out this scenario to Eruzione, the captain was aghast. Making the Olympic team meant everything to him. In the fall, he had fractured his wrist one day in a collision with Eric Strobel, then fainted in the van as trainer Gary Smith drove him to the hospital for X-rays, not so much from the pain of the fracture as from the prospect of it costing him his roster spot. Now he was on the brink again, and for once this was no Brooksian mind game. In a hotel lobby in St. Paul, before a team dinner in late January, Brooks had a private conversation with Gus Hendrickson, his friend and the coach of Minnesota-Duluth.

"I'm going to cut Eruzione. He's just not very good," Brooks said. "I think I'm going to go with Tim Harrer."

"But Eruzione's your leader. You need a leader," Hendrickson said. "Herbie, don't start screwing things up now." It was exactly the sentiment of the team. They'd been through Brooks's boot-camp grind for six months. Eruzione had become a widely admired captain, an emotional linchpin.

"If he cuts Eruzione, we're not going to go," John Harrington told Hendrickson, his former coach.

The players on the team were furious when Harrer and Broten arrived -- even the Gopher guys who knew and liked them. "Great to see you, Tim," [Steve] Janaszak said to Harrer. "When's your flight back?" Not even three weeks before Opening Ceremonies, the team confronted Brooks about his revolving door and had a four-letter suggestion for him: stop. It wasn't fair to bring in guys so late, to send guys packing who had been making sacrifices for months. Of course the imports might stand out during their audition; they hadn't spent months getting beaten up by Central Hockey League thugs looking to make a name for themselves by working over an Olympic kid. Led by Eruzione and O'Callahan, the players told Brooks that they were a family and that the team needed to come from the guys in the room right there. Brooks for once backed off.

“I think Herb just made a decision that it wasn’t right [to keep me]. He just wanted to keep the team together. It wasn’t really fair to all of a sudden bring me in out of the blue and send somebody home that’s been with the team all year,” Harrer said.

Following the completion of his college career, Harrer joined the Birmingham Bulls of the Central Hockey League for 2 regular season games as well as 4 playoff games.

For the 1980-81 season, Harrer split time between Birmingham (28 games) and the Hershey Bears of the AHL (39 games). He next joined the Oklahoma City Stars of the CHL for the 1981-82 season, netting 29 goals and 56 points for third on the club.

His next stop was with the Colorado Flames of the CHL, where he impressed with 33 goals and 62 points, which earned him a call up by the Calgary Flames of the NHL, who had relocated from Atlanta in 1980. His time with Calgary was brief, just three games without a point before being returned to Colorado.

Harrer had his finest season as a professional in 1983-84 when he skated for the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, also of the CHL. There, he scored 42 goals, one off the team lead, and 27 assists for 69 points in 66 games.

His final season as a professional saw Harrer play 7 games for the Nova Scotia Oilers of the AHL, 28 games for the IHL's Toledo Goaldiggers and 4 games for ATSE Graz in Austria, scoring three goals.

In 2001, Harrer was named one of the 50 greatest players in University of Minnesota hockey history.

Today's featured jersey is a 1980 United States Olympic Team Tim Harrer jersey as worn by Harrer during his brief stint with the Olympic Team during their pre-Olympic schedule of games. While Harrer was not named to the final Olympic Team roster, his time with the club was well documented in the feature film "Miracle" as the point when the team bonded together as one.

This jersey is one of the final set of jerseys made of use in the Olympics, as the pre-Olympic jerseys had USA diagonally down the front rather than arched across the chest like today's featured jersey.

1980 USA Harrer jersey, 1980 USA Harrer jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's Bonus jersey is a 1982-83 Calgary Flames Tim Harrer jersey, worn during his brief stint in the NHL with the Flames. The Flames kept the same sweater style used in Atlanta, only with the "A" crest changed to a "C". These jerseys would remain in use from 1980-81 to 1994-95.

Note how the 1 appears to be a different size than the 2 on the back, suggesting this jersey was recycled from a previous number worn by a different player.

1982-83 Calgary Flames jersey, 1982-83 Calgary Flames jersey
Photos courtesy of Classic Auctions

Here is the scene from "Miracle" where the players confront Brooks about bringing in Harrer late in the process, which would be at the expense of one of the existing team members who has gone through the rigors of training under Brooks for months, at the risk of upsetting team chemistry.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The 3rd Anniversary of Third String Goalie

Today marks the third anniversary of Third String Goalie. To date we have made 1125 posts, are followed by 70 people here on blogger, by 228 on our Facebook page, and 310 of the most intelligent people on Twitter.

We've written about jerseys from Alaska to Japan and from Iceland to South Africa, including jerseys from the United States, Canada, Iceland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, South Africa, Poland, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Japan.

In addition to the countries we've written about, we've also had visitors from 169 different countries and territories, which still shocks us to no end, often wondering what someone from
someplace like Nepal or Iran was expecting to find when they arrived here?

We've also gone astray a time or two with unexpected stories we felt worth sharing and we sincerely hope you've enjoyed the ride.

As a small token of our appreciation for your readership, today the 3rd, 13th and 23rd people to email us your mailing address will receive a Third String Goalie refrigerator magnet for free!

In honor of our third anniversary, we have chosen to feature one of our favorites from our personal collection with the number 3...

1988-89 Spartak Moscow Yuri Yashin Jersey

Founded back in 1925 as a physical culture and sports society of union workers in the Soviet Union, the Spartak Moscow Sports Society draws it's name from the famed gladiator Spartacus, a famous leader of Greek slaves in an uprising against the Romans.

Spartak Logo, Spartak Logo
The famous Spartak logo, with a Cyrillic "C",
which translates to English as an "S"

It was a many faceted society, with it's athletes eventually competing in gymnastics, track and field, basketball, boxing, skiing, figure skating, handball, speed skating, tennis and it's well known football club FC Spartak Moscow. It's hockey club, HC Spartak Moscow was formed in 1946. For their first seven seasons they competed in the Soviet Championship League, finishing second overall in only their second season with a 14-2-2 record.

A poor season in 1952-53 saw Spartak relegated to the second division of Soviet hockey for the 1953-54 season, but their stay was a short one, as they earned a promotion back to the top level in only their second try in 1954-55.

Once back in the top level, Spartak were there to stay for the next 46 years. After six seasons of generally moderate success, Spartak put together a dominating season in 1961-62 when they tore through the league with a 31-4-3 record on their way to their first Soviet League Championship.

Spartak champions 1962, Spartak champions 1962
The 1962 Soviet champions Spartak Moscow

That title signified Spartak's arrival as one of the "big four" of Soviet Hockey, along with Central Red Army (CSKA), Dynamo Moscow and Soviet Wings, with the difference being their popularity, as Central Red Army was the sporting club of the Soviet Army, Dynamo being sponsored by the KGB and Wings being affiliated with the Soviet Air Force, while Spartak was the club of the working people. Those four clubs would combine to win 43 out of 46 Soviet Championship League titles between 1947 and 1992.

With the stringent rules regarding freedom of speech, particularly when it came to criticism of the government in general and the ruling Communist Party in particular, supporting Spartak was one of the very few times the citizens of the Soviet Union could openly cheer in public against the oppressive government which controlled so many aspects of their lives.

Spartak fans, Spartak fans
Spartak's fans enthusiastically cheering on their club

Following their championship in 1962, Spartak would not finish outside the top four until 1977, a span of 15 seasons. Their second championship would arrive in 1967 after a spectacular 38-3-3 season, followed by a third in 1969.

1967 Spartak champions, 1967 Spartak champions
The dominant Spartak Moscow championship team from 1967

In addition to their league championships, Spartak would win back to back Soviet Cups in 1970 and 1971, which was a season long knockout competition for clubs from various levels of play held concurrent to the Soviet League regular season.

1971 Spartak cup, 1971 Spartak cup
Spartak Moscow's 1971 Soviet Cup winning team

Spartak also was competing in Europe at this time, winning the Ahearne Cup for three consecutive years in 1971, 1972 and 1973 as well as adding a Stars Cup in 1975.

Spartak again became Soviet champions in 1975-76, their fourth and final Soviet championship. They would suffer their first losing record since 1960 when they went 14-18-4 in 1978, but quickly returned to form for the next decade, which saw them compete in the Super Series in 1978 against five NHL clubs, winning three against the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Blues and Atlanta Flames.

1976 Spartak champions, 1976 Spartak champions
Spartak's fourth championship team in 1976

The club would also capture the prestigious Spengler Cup five times in 11 years, with those coming in 1980, 1981, 1985, 1989 and 1990 while defeating clubs from Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Canada and Sweden. During this time period Spartak would also host the Washington Capitals in 1989 and the Minnesota North Stars in 1990.

1990 Spartak Minnesota Program, 1990 Spartak Minnesota Program
The game program from Spartak vs. Minnesota in 1990

The Soviet Union would cease to exist in late 1991, which threw the world of Russian hockey into a period of transition and turmoil, as the teams attempted to form new leagues, which were somewhat evolutionary for a period of time. Still, it was the same core group of traditional clubs competing against each other regardless of the name of the league, which
was known as the CIS Championship in 1991-92, the International Hockey League from 1992 to 1996 and the Russian Hockey League/Russian Superleague from 1996-97 to 2007-08.

After a pair of third place finishes in the post-Soviet era, Spartak began a downward slide to 8th in 1994, 9th in 1995, 14th in 1996 and 17th in 1997. They rebounded with a 9th place finish only to bottom out with a 19th place finish in 1998-99, which saw them relegated for the first time since 1953.

On their second try in the Vyssshaya Liga, Spartak won the league championship in 2000-01, and were promoted back into the Russian Superleague. During their first season back they managed to avoid relegation with an 11th place finish, but a 15th place finish the following season saw them back in the Vysshaya Liga once more.

A first place finish in the Western Conference earned them a top seed in the playoffs, and the cruised to the playoff finals with a 9-1 record. Although they lost in the finals, it was enough to gain a promotion back to the RSL once again.

They played another two seasons in the Superleague, but their financial situation was worsening. Businessman Vadim Melkov agreed to help the club secure the much needed sponsorship, but any arrangements which were in the works died along with Melkov when he was killed in a plane crash in July of 2006. After attempting to improve their situation, it was decided by team management to sit out the 2006-07 season.

Fortunately, the club returned to the ice for the 2007-08 season, the final one for the RSL, as a new league was on the horizon, promising better times ahead.

That new league was the Kontinental Hockey League, which began play in the 2008-09 season with Spartak Moscow being placed in the Bobrov Division, where they finished third out of six clubs, qualifying for the postseason, where they would win their first playoff round.

In 2009-10, Spartak posted their third consecutive winning record in the KHL and again came third in the reconfigured Bobrov Division, again winning their opening round playoff series. 2010-11 was yet another third place in the division and a return to the playoffs.

In their most recent season, Spartak finished below .500 and missed the playoffs for the first time as a member of the KHL with a ninth place finish in their conference, where eight teams would advance to the post season.

While their days as one of the "Big Four" seem behind them, they have rebounded from the brink of extinction to carry on their legacy as the team that was once the most popular club in the nation.

Notable players to have skated for Spartak during their over 65 year history include former NHLers Stefan Ruzicka, Danny Markov, Alexander Selivanov, Vitali Prokhorov and Nikolai Borschevsky. Spartak made headlines in 2010 when they signed legendary 45 year old goaltender Dominik Hasek, who played the final of his 31 seasons with the club.

The best known Spartak alumnus is current NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk, who played for Spartak during the 1999-00 and 2000-01 seasons, which was highlighted by his 18 points in 12 playoff games as Spartak won the Vyssshaya Liga playoff championship to earn promotion back to the Russian Superleague before he joined the Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL the following season.

Kovalchuk Spartak, Kovalchuk Spartak
Ilya Kovalchuk while with Spartak in 2000-01

Today's featured jersey is a 1988-89 Spartak Moscow Yuri Yashin jersey from the season of their fourth of five Spengler Cup victories. Yashin was a defenseman with Spartak from 1987-88 through 1992-93. After one season in Sweden, he returned to Spartak for 1994-95 and go on to play three more seasons in Russia before his career came to a close.

This jersey is a prime example of late Soviet-era jerseys, constructed of a mid-weight mesh material with heavy white silk screening of the name, numbers and stripes, with only the white of the shoulders being a separate white fabric sewn into the jersey.

The jersey also has some interesting design features, such as the fonts for the sleeve numbers not matching the ones on the front and back and the uphill angle for the sash on the front which contains the team name, which runs uphill counter to the traditional style employed by most clubs.

Being game used, it also possesses the unique "funk" of a game worn Soviet jersey, which we recommend keeping far away from your better half!

Moscow Spartak 90-91 F
Moscow Spartak 90-91 B

Today's video segment begins with fantastic footage of Spartak Moscow winning their first championship in 1962.

Here is a look at the dominant Spartak Moscow club from 1967. Don't miss the brief appearance of the metal water jug on the bench.

Next, a look at the championship team from 1976. Apparently color film had not arrived in the Soviet Union in the mid-1970's!

Finally, a look at the modern Spartak Moscow with a preview of the 2010-11 season, capturing the excitement of the current day club and it's fans.

2012 IIHF World Championships Update

With all teams now having played three games at the 2012 IIHF World Championships, hosts Finland sit atop the Group H standings as they look to defend their title from last season, despite no host having won the gold medal since back in 1986 when the Soviet Union won at home.

2012 World Championships logo, 2012 World Championships logo

Canada sits two points back in second place with 7 points, having dropped two to the United States. Switzerland is next with 6 points with the Americans next at 5, but gave back the momentum of their rare win over Canada with a loss to Slovakia, a team ranked four spots lower than them in the current world rankings.

Slovakia, Belarus and France are currently tied with 3 points each, but Slovakia's win over the US gives them an advantage since Belarus is not expected to take points away from their game with the US and France has already lost to them.

Kazakhstan trails the pack with no points and is likely to be relegated, having already dropped games to Belarus and France, while yet to face Slovakia, the United States, Canada and Finland.

Group S in Stockholm has a battle for the top spot, with the hometown Sweden and Russia currently undefeated with 9 points each. They meet Friday for what could be the decisive game of the group.

Latvia is third with 6 points, aided by an important regulation win over Germany. They must win against Denmark and Norway to entertain any hopes of advancing, and would do themselves a great favor by at least taking a point from the Czechs to take the pressure off their final game with Sweden. The Latvians are one point up on the Czech Republic, who are off to a mediocre start, having lost to Sweden and requiring a shootout to defeat Norway, which cost them a point in the standings.

Germany is next with 3 points, but will rue the day they lost to Latvia, as they are now in a battle with them and the Czechs for the final playoff spot. Their final group stage game on May 15th against the Czechs could be a winner take all game to see who advances, assuming Germany can get maximum points from their upcoming games against Denmark and Norway. Drop even a few points, and they could be too far back for their final game to make any difference.

Italy scored a nice win over Denmark to gain two points. They need to win against favored Norway but realistically, those look to be the last points available to them, as they have games left against the Czechs, Swedes and Russians afterward.

Norway has been in every game so far, but with little to show for it against Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic, earning just a single point from taking the Czechs to a shootout, but with the murder's row part of their schedule behind them, they should begin to rise up out of the bottom of the group with Italy and Denmark yet to come and opportunities to add to their total against Germany and Latvia.

Denmark is also sitting at one point, but surely regret not taking more than just one from their overtime loss to Italy. They must find a way to gather some additional points from their remaining games against Russia, Germany, Latvia and Norway to climb over Italy to remain in the Top Division.

The games on the schedule today are:

  • Slovakia vs. Kazakhstan
  • Norway vs. Italy
  • Canada vs. Switzerland
  • Sweden vs. Germany

Key games for American fans to follow today are Slovakia vs. Kazakhstan, as any points lost by Slovakia is good for the United States, and Canada vs. Switzerland, both ahead of the US in the Group H standings.

The next games for the United States comes on Thursday vs. Belarus and Friday against Kazakhstan. A pair of regulation wins will go a long way to restoring US confidence and keep them on pace to advance to the playoff round.

Canada would do themselves a huge favor by beating Switzerland in regulation today, as their game against Finland will be a difficult one and they must not relinquish any points in their final two games with Belarus and Kazakstan, but realistically, they are not in any danger of missing out on the playoffs.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1994 Canada National Team Joe Sakic Jersey

 The first time hockey appeared at the Olympics was in 1920, which was actually as a part of the Summer Olympics, as the Winter Olympics would not be held for the first time until 1924. Canada would win gold in both hockey's first appearance in 1920 and again in the first official Winter Olympics in 1924.

1920 Canada Olympic team, 1920 Canada Olympic team
The 1920 Olympic Hockey champions from Canada,
represented by the Winnipeg Falcons

Four years later the Winter Olympics were held for a second time and Canada would complete a hat trick of golds, and with that, their third consecutive World Championship, as the Olympic hockey tournament was also considered that year's World Championship up until 1972, when a separate World Championship was held in the same year as the Winter Olympics for the first time.

Canada won the first formal World Championships which were not a part of the Winter Olympics in 1930 and again in 1931. Their fifth World Championship came at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

In 1933, the United States ended Canada's streak at six with a 2-1 overtime win in the gold medal game, but the Canadians returned to their winning ways in 1934 and 1935. Great Britain shocked the hockey world with a gold at the 1936 Winter Olympics before Canada would win the final three World Championships (1937-1939) before World War II would put the World Championships on hold until 1947, which was won by Czechoslovakia.

Canada would win titles at the 1948 Olympics, 1950, 1951 and the 1952 Olympics before Sweden broke through with their first title in 1953.

1948 RCAF Flyers team, 1948 RCAF Flyers team
The Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers, 1948 Olympic champions for Canada

 The world of hockey changed forever in 1954 with the arrival of the Soviet Union, who defeated the dominant Canadians 7-2 in the final contest.

1954 Soviet Union team, 1954 Soviet Union team
The Soviet Union won the World Championship on their debut in 1954

While the Canadians now had some very real competition, they were not down and out my any means, as they rebounded with a first place in 1955, but the Soviets took home their first Olympic gold in 1956. After Sweden won their second in 1957 (with the United States and Canada not attending the tournament in Moscow in protest of the Soviet occupation of Hungary), Canada would win again in 1958 and 1959, only to see the United States win the 1960 Olympics on home ice in Squaw Valley.

The World Championship that Canada would win in 1961 was their 19th (out of a possible 28) since 1920. At the time, only the United States (2), Sweden (2), the Soviet Union (2), Czechoslovakia (2) and Great Britain (1) and dared beat the Canadians at their own game.

1961 Trail Smoke Eaters, 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters
The 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters, Champions of the World

Up until this point, the winners of the Allan Cup, as Canada's senior hockey national champions, would represent Canada at the World Championships and Olympic Games, but beginning in 1962, Canada would implement a new national team program to bring together not just the best club in the land, but now with a focus on the best players from Canada, although these were still amateurs - a key distinction in the face of Soviet and Czech dominance.

After Sweden captured their third title in 1962, the World Championships became the exclusive playground of the communists, and the Soviet Union in particular. The Soviets reeled off nine straight titles from 1963 through 1971, which included the final two Winter Olympics which counted as the World Championship in 1964 and 1968. Their streak was needed by Czechoslovakia in 1972, the first time the World Championships was held as it's own stand alone tournament during an Olympic year.

1971 Soviet Union team, 1971 Soviet Union team
The 1971 World Champion Soviet Union team

While the Canadian players were strictly amateurs, the players used by the Communist countries were amateur in name only, as they were paid to be soldiers in the Army, but their assigned military duties were to play hockey, thus maintaining their "amateur" status, which frustrated and angered the Canadians in particular.

Canada appealed to be able to use professional players, which was approved by the IIHF to a limited degree in 1969, declaring that the Canadians could use up to nine non-NHL professionals as a one year experiment at the 1970 World Championships, which were to be hosted in Canada for the first time. However, the International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage was opposed to the idea of amateurs and professionals competing against each other, and declared hockey's status as an Olympic sport would be in jeopardy if the plan went forward in January of 1970. In the end, the IIHF reversed it's decision and Canada was again told they could not use any professionals.

The Canadians reacted swiftly and decisively, declining to host the 1970 World Championships as well as completely withdrawing from international competition effective immediately until the World Championship was made an "open competition", which would accept all players on an even playing field, which they felt was no longer the case.

Their withdrawal lasted for eight years, causing them to miss seven World Championships as well as the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. During Canada's absence, the Czechs won the World Championship in 1972 and 1976, with the Soviets on top in 1970, 1971 and 1973 through 1975 as well as both the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.

1976 Soviet Union team, 1976 Soviet Union team
The 1976 Olympic gold medalists, the Soviet Union

Finally an agreement was reach which returned Canada to the world of international hockey in 1977 when Günter Sabetzki became the president of the IIHF in 1975 and made the World Championships an open competition, as well as moving them to later in the season, which allowed players not involved in the NHL playoffs a chance to participate. The Olympics were a different story, as they remained an amateur only event, which was still held during the stretch drive of the NHL season.

The effect was immediate, as Canada fielded a team which included none other than two-time NHL MVP Phil Esposito! Canada suffered some growing pains, as the current generation of players was not used to the international game and it's larger ice surface, but still managed a respectable fourth place finish. With the fear that the younger players were losing their place in the World Championships, the IIHF promoted the Under-20 championships to full World Championship status that same year, giving rise to the now immensely popular "World Juniors".

Still, with Canada lacking it's best NHL professionals in the face of the veteran talent from the Soviet Union, the "Big Red Machine" rolled on, winning titles from 1978 to 1983, but the Canadians kept trying, with their efforts rewarded with bronze medals in 1978, 1982, 1983, 1986, and silver medals in 1985, 1989 and 1991 thanks in part to the efforts of the "Program of Excellence", which began in 1983 to put together a national team which would play a full season as a unit in games all over the world, often a combination of top NHL prospects, veteran pros as well as players seeking a team while in a contract dispute with their NHL club on occasion.

Elsewhere in the world, the Soviet Union broke apart in late 1991, throwing their once dominant program into a period of disarray as the Russians sought to reorganize their national team program. Sweden meanwhile, was at a peak with their program, winning gold in 1987, 1991 and 1992, and silver in 1990 and 1993, a tournament won for the first time by Russia, who were again a force to be reckoned with, but not the steamroller they once were.

The world reconvened for the 1994 World Championships in Italy for the first time since 1956, with the 12 participating teams being divided into two groups of six. On April 25th Canada opened the tournament with a 4-1 win over the host Italians with goals by Joe Sakic, Geoff Sanderson, Yves Racine and Mike Ricci. They then hammered Austria 6-1, with Sanderson, Nelson EmersonRod Brind'Amour and a hat trick by Paul Kariya (who led Canada with 5 goals and 12 points) accounting for the goals by Canada.

Germany was downed 3-2 with Brendan Shanahan being the hero of the day, scoring all three goals for Canada. Great Britain was dominated 8-2 with goals from Ricci, Emerson, Shayne Corson (twice), Sakic, Pat Verbeek, Stephen Thomas, and Brind'Amour, setting up a final game with Russia, who were also undefeated.

After falling behind 1-0, Canada roared back with three third period goals by Sanderson and Sakic before Sakic sealed the victory with an empty net goal with just two seconds remaining to secure the top seed in Group 1 and a date with the fourth place finisher, the Czech Republic (1-2-2) in the Quarterfinals.

The Czech's poor record in the First Round proved deceptive, as they broke out on top with a goal at 4:12. Shanahan tied it for Canada at 12:20 and Kariya put Canada ahead at 5:58 of the second, only to have the Czechs tie it 1:40 later. The game then remained scoreless until Corson broke the tie with 2 1/2 minutes remaining to give Canada a 3-2 win.

Their Semifinal opponent was Sweden, second in Group 2 at 3-1-1, but they offered little resistance to an on-form group of Canadians, who blitzed the Swedes 6-0, with goals coming from Luc Robitaille, who had a hat trick, Sanderson, Kariya and Brind'Amour, setting up a championship final with Finland, who had won Group 2 with four wins an a tie.

The game, played on this date in 1994, saw the teams play the first two periods scoreless before trading goals in the third period, with Brind'Amour scoring with 4:43 left on a power play to tie the score at 1-1 at the end of regulation, as Bill Ranford and Jarmo Myllys stood tall in the nets. Overtime passed without a winner as Canada out shot Finland 5-3, moving the game onto penalty shots.

Robitaille put Canada up 1-0 after the first round and Sakic gave Canada a commanding 2-0 lead after the second. Neither team scored in the third round, but the tide quickly turned as Finland scored in rounds 4 and 5, while Kariya and Verbeek were stopped by Myllys, sending the shootout into extra rounds tied at 2-2. Robitaille, able to shoot again under international rules, converted on his second opportunity after momentarily losing control of the puck, but regained it in time to brilliantly deke Myllys and find the back of the net to give Canada the lead. Randford then stopped Mika Nieminen to secure the first gold medal for Canada in 33 years of waiting, dating back to 1961, when they were represented by the Trail Smoke Eaters in an era long since past.

1994 World Champions

Canada would repeat as champions in 1997, 2003 and 2004 and again in 2007, their 24th World Championship. Additionally, with the inclusion of the NHL professionals in the Olympics beginning in 1998, Canada has also won Olympic gold in both 2002 and 2010, their first since 1952 when they were represented by the Edmonton Mercurys.

1954 Edmonton Mercurys team, 1954 Edmonton Mercurys team
The 1954 Edmonton Mercurys

Today's featured jersey is a 1994 Canada National Team Joe Sakic jersey as worn during the 1994 World Championships during which Canada ended their 33 year World Championship drought. The jersey is a Finnish made jersey produced by Tackla of Finland, but branded as a Reebok jersey, using the dye sublimation process, in which all the graphics are created by injecting ink into the fabric, which is then cured with heat. This jersey also sports a pair of Warsteiner Beer sponsorship logos, giving the jersey it's unique "World Championships" look, as jerseys worn during the Olympics are free from advertising.

This multi-striped style was a short-lived one and only used for the 1994 and 1995 World Championships, as Nike arrived on the scene with all new designs for the 1996 World Championships.

1994 Canadian National Team Joe Sakic Jersey
1994 Canadian National Team Joe Sakic Jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1977 Canada National Team Phil Esposito jersey. This brash style loudly announced Canada's return to international competition when it was worn at the 1977 World Championships after Canada withdrew from international hockey for eight years in protest of eligibility rules of professional players versus the veteran Soviet players who were able to maintain their amateur status.

Somewhat surprisingly, this style continued to be worn through 1979 and is perhaps the only jersey Canada has ever worn that could not be described as classy or at least attractive, with the exception of the first mustard colored sweaters from 1920, which were revived as an ill-advised throwback in 2004.

Canada 1977 WC R #77 jersey photo Canada1977WCR77F-1.jpg
Canada 1977 WC R #77 jersey photo Canada1977WCR77B-1.jpg

Today's video section features a great find, rare footage of the 1994 gold medal final of the World Championships between Canada and Finland. The first five rounds of the shootout are edited pretty tight, so don't blink. Following the game highlights are interviews with many of the players.

Monday, May 7, 2012

1999-00 New Jersey Devils Brian Rafalski Jersey

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.

Rafalski Wisconsin

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.

Rafalski 2000 Devils

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 with 59 points in 2008-09 after back to back 55 point seasons.

Rafalski Red Wings

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.

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.

Rafalski USA

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.

New Jersey Devils 99-00 jersey, New Jersey Devils 99-00 jersey
New Jersey Devils 99-00 jersey, New Jersey Devils 99-00 jersey

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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