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Was Brian Rafalski An Underrated Star?

Brian Rafalski retired last week and just as his career was often played in the shadows of great defensemen, his retirement didn’t make the back pages of newspapers, or wasn’t worth a front page notice on most NHL pages, but it will be felt by the team he has left, and in the NHL as a whole.

Though a gifted puck mover who recorded 45 points in 43 games his senior year at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Brian went undrafted and signed as a free agent with Brynäs IF of the Swedish based Elitserien in 1995.  Rafalski played two years before signing as a free agent with HPK of the SM-Liiga, which is the highest level of professional hockey in Finland, where he played for one season, then heading to HIFK of the same league, recording 53 points in 53 games and a +38 in his final season.  While playing for HIFK, Brian was twice awarded Pekka Rautakallio trophy, awarded yearly to the top defenseman in the SM-Liiga, as well as winning the Kultainen Kypärä, which is annually handed out to the best player in SM-Liiga.

Brian Rafalski holding the 2003 Stanley Cup as a member of the New Jersey Devils

As a member of the Red Wings, Brian continued his trend of playing great two way hockey in the shadows of all time greats, as the perpetually contending powerhouse featured no doubt hall of famers Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Dominek Hasek, Brian won his third and final career Stanley Cup.  In the following season, Brian had the best statistical season of his career, recording a career high 59 points and returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for the fourth time in his career.

In addition to this stellar professional career, Brian had a very solid international career, twice winning a silver medal for the United States in the Olympics.  In the 2010 Olympics, Brian was named to the All Tournament Team, and was chosen by the Tournament Directorate as the Best Defenseman of the Olympics.

So I’d like to bid a fond farewell to Brian, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.  He may have never been the face of his team, but he was one of the most reliable two-way defensemen we’ve seen in years.  Congratulations on a fabulous career.

In 1999, the New Jersey Devils signed Brian Rafalski to a contract and thus began his NHL career.  Playing along side veteran defensemen Scott Stevens, Scott Neidermayer and Ken Daneyko during his rookie season, Rafalski played in 75 games for the Devils, recording 32 points and a +21, and then played 23 additional games in the post season, recording 8 points and a + 5 rating, and topping it off by hoisting his first Stanley Cup.  The following seasons were just as good, as he and the Devils returned to the Stanley Cup Finals the following season, though they were bested by the Colorado Avalanche.  He would win his second Stanley Cup with the Devils in 02-03 season.  In 2006-07, Rafalski laced up his skates for the Devils for the final time, posting a then career high 55 points in 82 games, before signing with Detroit in the offseason.

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