Monday, June 9, 2008

Brian Rafalski

I was going to do a Brian Rafalski Linkorama, á la the Chris Chelios Linkorama that I did last month. Unfortunately, it appears that the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News charge for articles that are more than 7 days old. However, despite this setback, my efforts will not be deterred.

Since the Wings just won the Stanley Cup, let's begin with a video of Rafalski and fellow Badger Chris Chelios with the Cup, and quotes from Rafalski after winning the Cup:

Rafalski, a former University of Wisconsin skater, enjoyed a surreal moment, too, by winning a Cup with the team he rooted for growing up in the Detroit area.

"This is what I dreamt about," he said. "I watched the tough times in the 1980s when the team was known as the Dead Wings and played in the Snorris Division. I was there in stands when they lost in the first round to San Jose in 1994.


"Then I watched them getting better from afar the rest of the 1990s and now, I'm here."

Snorris Division, haha. (Ok, you've all probably heard that before. But being more of a college hockey girl who never really followed the NHL much until recently, I hadn't previously heard it, and I found it amusing.)

Anyway, let's continue with an excerpt from 5 Reasons Detroit Will Win the Cup:

The Wings have the best top four in the NHL, with Mr. Norris, Nicklas Lidstrom, leading the way. His partner Brian Rafalski complements Nick's impeccable position game with exceptional offensive instincts and steady defensive play.
Yep, exceptional offensive instincts and steady defensive play. That's our Brian!

And here's a lovely quote from Nicklas Lidstrom:

"He was a great addition to our team, obviously," Lidstrom said. "He definitely made my job easier this year, and we were lucky to get him."
Yeah, I just love it when one of my favorite NHL defensemen says nice things about another one of my favorite NHL defenseman. And Lidstrom just so happens to be my favorite non-Badger NHL player.

Sportswriter Ansar Khan graded the regular season and post-season play of Red Wings players, and he gave Rafalski straight A's!

Brian Rafalski (A, A): The perfect partner for Lidstrom, Rafalski's passing and skating ability are ideally suited for this team's up-tempo style. They could continue to be the league's top combination for the next couple of years.

As you know, Rafalski signed with the Wings last offseason, taking advantage of the opportunity via free agence to play with his hometown team. Mlive has some nice quotes regarding this from Rafalski and GM Ken Howard, my favorite being this:

"We think he's been a premier defenseman in the league for a number of years," Holland said. "He's a good skater, he's mobile; he can get the puck moved up. He can play in every situation -- power play, penalty kill, against other teams' best players. He's a very good player in every aspect of the game. Not a superstar but a really good, sound, solid player."

Before signing with the Wings, Rafalski played for 7 seasons with the Devils. The Devils signed him as a free agent after he had spent 4 seasons in Europe honing his skating, puck-handling passing, and playmaking abilities . I hesitate to pull a quote out of this article, because I really think you should read the whole thing -- there's a lot of good stuff in it -- but I trust you, so I will:

''Never close,'' he said, referring to giving up. ''I had people tell me maybe I should, but I believed in myself. My wife and I decided to keep doing it. I knew you can't be a 5-foot-9 defensive defenseman. You need offensive abilities to make it in the N.H.L. That's one of the reasons Europe was a good option for me. I really came into my own. I've always produced well in playoffs. My three years in Finland, I had 36 points in 30 games. I expect a lot out of myself.''
Rafalski was listed in a nice 2002 Hockey Digest article about players with delayed NHL success:

BRIAN RAFALSKI NEW JERSEY

The Michigan native skated defense for four seasons at the University of Wisconsin, but was never drafted. After graduation, Rafalski went to Europe and spent the next four seasons honing his skills.

The Devils took notice and in 1999 signed the offensive rearguard as a free agent. As a 26-year-old rookie, he would help lead New Jersey to a Stanley Cup championship in 2000. He then won a silver medal with the 2002 U.S. Olympic
team.

Our expert is familiar with Rafalski's work, but could never have imagined that he would become one of the game's best offensive defensemen.


"[Brian] took advantage of an opportunity," he says. "He's a very upbeat, positive person."

I'd like to finish this litte tribute to Brian Rafalski with a little something I wrote about him before the 2006-07 Badger season, focusing mostly on his Badger and pre-Badger years. (Those of you who participated in "my" little countdown thread might recognize this.)

Brian Rafalski (’91-’95, 150 20 80 100) held down the Badgers blueline for 4 years, and let me tell you right now that I adore Brian Rafalski. He was listed at 5’9”, but, unlike Nick Licari, I don’t know how tall he really is. At pretty much every level, Rafalski was told that he was too small. “I've heard that since I was 10 years old,” he said. “It hasn't stopped me yet. And I don't think it will stop me at any level further. I've proved I can do it. I've proved everyone wrong so far.”

Rather than tell you what I think about Rafalski, let me share what others have said about him.

Prior to his days as a Badger, when he was playing for the Madison Captiols, Coach Steve Huglen said, “He has the ability to make the pinpoint and precision pass. Brian can put the puck on someone's stick before they see it.” Of Rafalski’s play with the Capitols, UW Coach Jeff Sauer said, “I've watched Brian play quite a bit this year and last summer, and I'm very, very impressed with the way he sees the ice, moves the puck and his offensive approach to the game of hockey.''

When Rafalski was a freshman, UW assistant coach Mike Kemp said, “We're very pleased with a lot of things Brian has done so far. He has played smart and he hasn't made excessive mistakes. He's done the little things you'd like to see a young guy do. Playing with the Caps benefited him. It helped him get exposure to a higher level of strength and speed. And he was better prepared to compete initially than maybe some of our kids coming out of high school who didn't have the experience against bigger and older players.”

When Rafalski was a junior, Sauer said, “With the exception of one or two games, `Ralf' has graded out as our No. 1 or No. 2 defenseman, and I think that tells you the consistency we see there. Other guys might have better games, but Rafalski has been there every night.” Sauer also said, “The best thing about him is he can take chances and he's a good enough skater than he can get back and cover up a mistake.” Kemp said, “Brian has been our most consistent defenseman, maybe our most consistent player. He doesn't get beat often. Plus, he really gets the puck out of the zone for us.”

About his own play, Rafalski said, “I might not be the best at everything, but I try to do as well as I can at everything. I'm going to go out there and do my best and just try not to make big errors that are going to cost us.”

So, to sum things up, Rafalski was a smart player with good vision on the ice, he was a very good skater, and he was very good at moving the puck. He was also one of the most consistent players on the team. In fact, his senior year, he was named the team’s Most Consistent Player.

But that’s not the only award he won. His senior year he was the team’s MVP, 1st-team All-American, 1st-team All-WCHA, and the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year. Not too bad for a guy listed at 5’9”, hey?

And now, how ’bout a little linkorama of articles that I like:
Capitols’ Rafalski heady on and off the ice (3/19/91)
Rafalski makes mark (10/29/91)
Rafalski produces quality (12/2/93)
Injury can’t stop Badgers’ Rafalski (2/18/94)
Rafalski hasn’t grown, but game has (5/26/00)
Rafalski is proving size doesn’t matter (5/36/01)
Dream job: Rafalski answers call to compete in Olympics (6/19/01)
So, Ma 60, how'd I do??