Yesterday, the three-time U.S. Olympian Brian Rafalski (Dearborn, Mich.) announced his retirement from the National Hockey League. Rafalski played 11 seasons in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings. The 37 year-old American defenseman netted 79 goals and 515 points in 833 regular-season games, while adding 29 goals and 100 points in 165 playoff games. He won three Stanley Cups over the course of his successful career, including two with the New Jersey Devils (2000, 2003) and his last with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.
In addition to his participation in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Rafalksi also represented USA Hockey twice at the IIHF World Junior Championships (1992, 1993), was a member of two U.S. Men’s National Teams in 1995 and 1998, and skated for Team USA at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Rafalski’s route to the NHL was far from the norm. He played for 4 years at the University of Wisconsin and he also spent some time in the USHL before heading to the college game. However, prior to entering the NHL, Rafalski played 4 seasons in European Pro Leagues struggling to make it to the big stage. While playing overseas in his last year over there, he was awarded the SM-liiga (Finland) trophy for best player as voted by his fellow players. Thus becoming the first non-Finnish player to win the award. Though he took the road less traveled to become a pro, his career should give future players hope that they too can make the big league, even if it takes an alternate route to do so. Two Olympic Silver Medals and three Stanley Cups later, I would say he did alright.
Best of wishes to Brian and his family in his post NHL life.