Brian Rafalski

Brian Rafalski cites injuries and wanting time with family for retiring from NHL


When word broke out on Monday about Brian Rafalski retiring from the NHL, the speculation ran high as to what might make a 37 year-old guy want to give up the game they love so seemingly early. Whether it’s us being spoiled by seeing guys play well into their 40s (Chris Chelios, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, Nicklas Lidstrom) or the fact that we don’t think of someone being 37 as being old, Rafalski’s news caught us off guard.

During Rafalski’s press conference in Detroit in which he officially announced his retirement, the reasons why he’s calling it quits became that much more clear and apparent. He also made it more than clear that the $6 million he was due to make next season wasn’t even a thought in his mind as to whether or not he would stick it out one more year.

“After 15 years of playing professional hockey, I’d like to announce my retirement,” Rafalski said during a news conference at Joe Louis Arena, adding he made the decision two months ago. “It’s been a challenging season, both physically, mentally and spiritually, but also rewarding.

“It’s time for me to move on.”

Rafalski also cited that his son is starting high school next year and that being there for him was important. Rafalski, a spiritual man himself, cited his reasons for calling it quits.

“Three factors that led to my decision: Serving God, my family and others,” Rafalski said.

Personal beliefs like that don’t make much of an appearance with hockey players as that’s always treated as a very personal matter. Rafalski was more than open about owing his decision to his faith in having the courage to retire. Ongoing problems with his back and knee as well as the ability to keep up with the speed in the NHL these days were major factors.

As for the money he’s leaving on the table by retiring, that didn’t even enter into his mind.

“As far as money goes, there are more important things.”

In an age when money is often viewed as the main motivation for players to stick it out and keep playing even in spite of being past their prime, Rafalski is a proud man. As CBC’s Elliotte Friedman noted in his 30 Things column this week, there’s some things that even a player of Rafalski’s caliber still can’t get past to discuss them.

What I’ll remember about Brian Rafalski: As we approached the one-year anniversary of Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal, how many reporters wanted to do a story? 1,000? Rafalski refused, wanting no part of it. Here’s a guy who won three Stanley Cups and two Olympic silver medals. But he was so bothered about being beaten on that one goal he wouldn’t discuss it. I admire that, considering there’s one thing in my career I’ll never get over, either.

Rafalski’s career was a great one amassing 515 points with the Red Wings and New Jersey Devils and winning the Stanley Cup three times, twice in New Jersey and once in Detroit. Winning two silver medals for Team USA in 2002 and 2010 are also tremendous accomplishments. While he’s not likely to end up being a Hockey Hall of Famer, his spot in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame is secure as is his legacy as one of the top American defensemen of all time ranking up there with Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, and Phil Housley.

Rafalski’s retirement will now put the focus on Detroit to find a way to fill out ranks on the blue line in the offseason. With Nicklas Lidstrom’s future still up in the air as well as Jonathan Ericsson and Ruslan Salei set to be unrestricted free agents, the Red Wings could be looking at a major rebuild this summer. They’ll also have a lot more money to play with in the free agent market as well so expect the Wings’ summer to be a fascinating one.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.