DETROIT, USA – Three-time U.S. Olympian and Stanley Cup winning defenceman Brian Rafalski, 37, has decided to retire after 11 seasons in the NHL. He forfeits six million dollars in salary due next season.
A two-time NHL All-Star selection, Rafalski won two Olympic silver medals with Team USA at Salt Lake City (2002) and Vancouver (2010). He also played in the 2006 Olympics in Turin. In the beginning of his international career he represented USA Hockey at two IIHF World U20 Championships and one men’s World Championship (1995).
He was a relative youngster among the veterans on the U.S. team that earned silver at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
Rafalski was the oldest player on a youth-infused team last year in Vancouver, where he scored twice and had an assist for the Americans in a stunning win over Canada in a preliminary round game and he helped them advance to the gold medal game. He was on the ice along with defensive partner Ryan Suter for Sidney Crosby’s 4-on-4 overtime goal.
Despite being 36, Rafalski was named to the Olympic All Star Team and also named Tournament Best Defenceman.
Rafalski must be considered as the best U.S. national team defenceman of the past decade, although he was undrafted and unwanted in North America at the age of 21.
Before joining the Devils for the 1999-2000 season – as a 26-year-old – he played four professional seasons (1995-1999) in Sweden (Brynäs Gävle) and Finland (HPK Hämeenlinna, HIFK Helsinki) after a collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin.
His last four seasons Rafalski spent with the Detroit Red Wings.
“He’s an incredible story, a five-foot-nine defenceman that was never drafted and spent four years in Europe,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “It was a great move by the New Jersey Devils to sign Brian Rafalski. In 11 years, he played five times in the Stanley Cup finals, was a three-time Stanley Cup champion and the best defenceman at the Olympics in 2010.”
Injuries and other issues, including family life, prompted the 37-year-old native of Dearborn, Michigan, to make the decision.
“The decision was made about two months ago, with my wife, weighing different factors in our lives," Rafalski said at a Wednesday press conference. "With hockey not being at the top, it was time to move on. [My] son being a freshman in high school next year was a big factor.”
Rafalski helped Detroit to the 2008 Stanley Cup title after winning the championship with the Devils in 2000 and 2003.
“I was able to play for two world class organizations,” Rafalski added. “The staffs at both places were excellent.”
Over 833 career games with the Devils and Red Wings, Rafalski compiled 79 goals and 436 assists. He notched four goals and 44 assists for 48 points in a career-low 63 games this past season.
“There wasn’t a day this year I wasn’t on a training table,” Rafalski stated when asked about injuries. “It played a factor. It made me adjust how I played the game this year, but I’m still standing here and that’s a good thing.”
IIHF.com, with files from AP and Sports Network