From small things mama, big things one day come. Brian Rafalski of Dearborn, Michigan, used every inch of his 5-10 frame and parlayed his way into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum, in Eveleth, Minnesota. Joined by Karyn Bye Dietz, Jeff Sauer and Lou Vairo, Rafalski’s journey is a prime example of why you should never give up on your dreams.
Rafalski enjoyed a stellar four-year collegiate career with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Although he wasn’t drafted, Rafalski flourished overseas in Sweden and Finland, using his speed and skating to thrive with the International game. As the NHL began to change and move toward a more wide open game, Rafalski finally got his shot at the age of 26 with the New Jersey Devils in 1999.
For a guy small in statue, Rafalski did some big things and played with some of the game’s giants on the blue line. First with Scott Stevens in New Jersey and subsequently alongside Nicklas Lidstrom on the Detroit Red Wings. One in the Hockey Hall of Fame and the other presumably will be next year. Not bad company if you ask me.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 4, 2014
It is great to see Rafalski get his due in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Sometimes, fair or not, Rafalski would get tabbed with the label of the “poor man’s Scott Niedermayer.” To make an analogy, I get the “Pocket-Rocket” comparison, given the style of play of both but that severely short-changed Rafalski. Want proof? From the time he came to the Devils until he left for Detroit (1999-2007), only forwards Patrik Elias (481) and Scott Gomez (450) had more points than the 311 registered by Rafalski.
Yes, Rafalski was an important and integral part of three Stanley Cup winning teams between New Jersey (2) and Detroit (1). Plus, he made the postseason in every year he played. He also helped bring the United States Olympic squad a silver medal in 2010 at Vancouver, recording four goals and eight points along the way, providing a spark.
"Hockey is a great game. Every time you step on the ice, it's a new experience." – Brian Rafalski, 2014 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) December 5, 2014
That’s how I’ll always think of Brian Rafalski, a winner, a guy who could give a team a jump and a clutch situational hockey player. Aside from being a two-time All-Star in his eleven-year NHL career, Rafalski could lead a rush and orchestrate a power play. Over those eleven seasons, Rafalski netted 19 goals and added 120 helpers with the extra attacker. Adding to that clutch play, he also notched 13 game winners in the regular season and six more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, during the run to the 2000-01 Final, Rafalski was a beast with 18 points and a league best three game deciding markers.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 4, 2014
As it was, Rafalski played in an astounding 833 games, most of which came after the age of 30. Had he come along or if the game had changed five years sooner, maybe we’re talking Rafalski for possible enshrinement in the Hall in Toronto. What’s important now though is Rafalski can call himself a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and that’s no small feat.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.