Rafalski pictured in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings
September 28, 1973|
Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.
|Height||5 ft 10 in (178 cm)|
|Weight||191 lb (87 kg; 13 st 9 lb)|
New Jersey Devils
Detroit Red Wings
|National team||United States|
Brian Christopher Rafalski (born September 28, 1973) is an American former professional ice hockey defenseman. He previously played in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings, in the SM-liiga Hämeenlinnan Pallokerho and Helsingin IFK in the Elitserien for Brynäs IF.
After struggling to enter the NHL, spending four seasons in European leagues, Rafalski won the Stanley Cup three times, playing in five Stanley Cup finals in his NHL career (2000, 2001, 2003, 2008, 2009). Rafalski also played for the United States men's ice hockey team in three Olympic ice hockey tournaments (2002, 2006, and 2010).
Rafalski played for four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a proficient player, scoring 45 points in 43 games in his senior year with the Badgers. He won several awards that season -- he was named to the WCHA First All-Star Team, the NCAA West All-Star Team and the WCHA Defenseman of the Year. With no immediate NHL prospects, however, Rafalski travelled overseas, spending the 1995-96 season with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Elitserien.
After scoring only nine points in 22 games in Sweden, he then moved to Finland to play a season for HPK of the SM-liiga, scoring 35 points. He then moved to HIFK in 1997, where he spent two successful years. In his final year in Finland, he scored 19 goals and 53 points in 53 games, and won the Kultainen kypärä, awarded to the top SM-liiga player of the season, as voted by fellow players. Notably, he also became the first non-Finnish player to win the award.
Rafalski was named by Sporting News in 1999 as the best hockey player in the world not playing in the NHL. On May 7, 1999, Rafalski was signed by the New Jersey Devils as a free agent at the age of 25 to start the 1999-2000 season.
Immediately after arriving in New Jersey, Rafalski was partnered on defense with Devils captain Scott Stevens. The two would remain as mainstay defensive partners for five years, until Stevens' retirement in 2004. Rafalski finished his rookie season with 32 points and led all rookie defensemen in plus-minus with a +21 rating, second among Devils defensemen and tied for first amongst all rookie players. Rafalski helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup that year and along with Calder Memorial Trophy-winning teammate Scott Gomez, he was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Rafalski improved his production in his sophomore season, scoring 52 points. His 18 points during the 2001 playoffs set a team record for defensemen, although the Devils lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the Finals.
In the 2001-02 season, Rafalski continued his scoring pace, registering 47 points. He was selected to participate in the National Hockey League All-Star Game, but was forced to sit out due to injury. The next season, he once again led all Devils defensemen in scoring, with 40 points. He was a vital part of a Devils defense that helped the team win the Stanley Cup again in a seven-game series win over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in June 2003.
On July 1, 2007, the Detroit Red Wings signed Rafalski to a $30 million, five-year contract as an unrestricted free agent. Rafalski had grown up in nearby Dearborn, Michigan, and had been a Red Wings fan growing up. He was teamed with another legendary defenseman, Nicklas Lidström.
Rafalski set a career high in goals (11) after scoring against the St. Louis Blues on March 5, 2008. He would go on to score 13 goals for the season, amassing that amount in 73 games. On June 4, 2008, Rafalski helped lead the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rafalski's third Cup victory. He helped the cause by scoring the first Red Wings goal on the power play in the first period of Game 6 to help Detroit edge Pittsburgh 3-2.
On January 1, 2009, Rafalski scored the game-winning goal for the Red Wings in the 2009 Winter Classic, the first NHL game played outdoors in Red Wings history. The Red Wings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-4.
On May 5, 2009, Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock announced that Rafalski would miss Game 3 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. It was the first time Rafalski missed the first three games of a series. Rafalski finished the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs with three goals and nine assists as the Red Wings came within a game of repeating as Stanley Cup champions, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On May 25, 2011, Rafalski announced his retirement from the NHL, walking away from the final year of his contract, citing knee and back injuries. Because Rafalski retired on an under-35 contract without being bought out, the move removed his cap hit for the 2011-12 season.
In the 11 NHL seasons that Rafalski played, his team qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs every year.
On January 3, 2014, the Florida Everblades of the ECHL signed Rafalski to a contract, his first return to professional hockey since his initial retirement. He expressed a desire to return to the NHL, but was released 18 days after he signed, once again citing back issues.
Rafalski also played in the 2010 Winter Olympics, serving as alternate captain. He scored two goals and assisted on another in Team USA's 5-3 win over Canada in group-stage play, which ensured the United States would win their group and earn a bye to the quarter-finals. He finished third in the tournament in scoring (first among defensemen) with four goals and four assists. He was also named as the best defenseman of the tournament, as well as being named to the tournament all-star team. Unfortunately, his defensive mistake led to Canada's tournament-winning goal in overtime of the gold medal game.
|All-WCHA Rookie Team||1991-92|
|All-WCHA First Team||1994-95|
|AHCA West First-Team All-American||1994-95|
Rafalski has a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Economics. On a similar note, Rafalski has said during an interview that he is a political buff and frequently listens to Glenn Beck and other talk show hosts, with notable stances taken on issues such as taxation.
Speaking about his retirement, Rafalski said, "This was probably the most challenging season of my career, both physically, mentally and spiritually, but it was also the most rewarding and most blessed...The decision was made between myself and my wife approximately two months ago. We went through a long process of weighing different factors in our lives. At the end of the day it came down to priorities, with the top three priorities being serving God, serving my family and serving others." 
|1991-92||University of Wisconsin-Madison||WCHA||34||3||14||17||--||34||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|1992-93||University of Wisconsin-Madison||WCHA||32||0||13||13||--||10||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|1993-94||University of Wisconsin-Madison||WCHA||37||6||17||23||--||26||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|1994-95||University of Wisconsin-Madison||WCHA||43||11||34||45||--||48||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|1999-2000||New Jersey Devils||NHL||75||5||27||32||21||28||23||2||6||8||5||8|
|2000-01||New Jersey Devils||NHL||78||9||43||52||36||26||25||7||11||18||10||7|
|2001-02||New Jersey Devils||NHL||76||7||40||47||15||18||6||3||2||5||−2||4|
|2002-03||New Jersey Devils||NHL||79||3||37||40||18||14||23||2||9||11||7||18|
|2003-04||New Jersey Devils||NHL||69||6||30||36||6||24||5||0||1||1||0||0|
|2005-06||New Jersey Devils||NHL||82||6||43||49||0||36||9||1||8||9||3||2|
|2006-07||New Jersey Devils||NHL||82||8||47||55||4||34||11||2||6||8||−1||8|
|2007-08||Detroit Red Wings||NHL||73||13||42||55||27||34||22||4||10||14||6||12|
|2008-09||Detroit Red Wings||NHL||78||10||49||59||17||20||18||3||9||12||11||11|
|2009-10||Detroit Red Wings||NHL||78||8||34||42||23||26||12||3||8||11||4||2|
|2010-11||Detroit Red Wings||NHL||63||4||44||48||11||22||11||2||1||3||−1||4|
|Awards and achievements|
| Winner of the Pekka Rautakallio trophy
| Winner of the Pekka Rautakallio trophy
| Winner of the Kultainen kypärä trophy
| Winner of the Matti Keinonen trophy