In a completely unexpected turn of events, Sportsnet in Canada is reporting that Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski is set to announce his retirement in the near future, possibly on Wednesday. Rafalski, 37, just completed his 4th season with the Red Wings after signing a 5 year deal with them back in July of 2007. This past season he finished with 4 goals and 44 assists for 48 points in 63 games played. It is reported that injuries are the cause for his retirement, as he played through this year’s playoffs without an ACL in his leg.
Rafalski has been a mainstay on the Detroit blue line since signing the deal, and has been part of one of the better defensive pairings in the entire NHL. Solid in his own zone, smart decisions with the puck, and a good outlet pass have made Rafalski one of Detroit’s better pickups in recent memory. He is also dangerous on the powerplay, and proved to be a good team leader, providing the veteran leadership Detroit loves to have in its lineup.
Rafalski originally went undrafted after playing for the University of Wisonsin, and played for several years in Finland and Sweden before debuting with the New Jersey Devils in the 1999-2000 season. In 1999 the Sporting News named him the best player in the world not playing in the NHL.
He won two Stanley Cups while with New Jersey (2000, 2003), and one with Detroit (2008). Rafalski has also performed in international play, and has represented the United States three times in the Winter Olympics (2002, 2006, 2010), with his most notable performance coming in 2010.
In the 2010 Olympics, Rafalski was an alternate captain for Team USA, was the leading scorer for defenseman (4 goals, 4 assists), and was named the best defenseman of the tournament. He helped his fellow Americans to a silver medal that year, the second of his career (he also won a silver medal with the US in 2002).
Rafalski played 11 seasons in the NHL, and in that time he became one of the top offensive defenseman in the league. In 833 career games, he scored 79 goals and 436 assists for 515 points. He was also elected to the All-Rookie team, and was a 2-time All-Star.
So along with his aforementioned awards, international recognition, 3 Stanley Cups, and 2 Olympic Silver Medals, his two main defense partners during his career were Scott Stevens (in New Jersey) and Nicklas Lidstrom (in Detroit). Not too shabby for an undrafted free agent.
Rafalski endeared himself to Red Wings fans during his stint in Detroit, and he will be sorely missed. Not to mention this adds even more weight on to the possible retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. I am here to salute Brian Rafalski, one of the greatest American born hockey players of all time. I wish him all the best.