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

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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.

Another Capitals injury as Kuznetsov’s night is over

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The Washington Capitals experienced almost-freaky-good injury luck for basically Barry Trotz’s entire run as head coach. Will they see that luck run out under new coach Todd Reirden?

It’s too early to tell, but Wednesday presents a series of worries.

First, Braden Holtby‘s availability was canceled out pretty late in the phase of getting ready for a game against the Winnipeg Jets, prompting the team to bring in an emergency backup for Pheonix Copley. Now the Capitals need to worry about rising star center Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov won’t return to Wednesday’s game thanks to an upper-body injury, likely suffered thanks to this Brandon Tanev hit:

Kuznetsov, 26, came into his 18th game of 2018-19 with an impressive 21 points. Ideally this will just be a minor hiccup as the Russian center aims to meet or exceed last season’s career-high of 83 points.

Holtby’s injury isn’t expected to be a big deal, so perhaps this will be closer to a minor speed bump than a troubling pothole in the road to defending that first-ever Stanley Cup.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Jeremy Roenick trains to become Golden Knights ‘archer’

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Whenever NBC Sports hits a fun locale, you can expect Jeremy Roenick to embrace opportunities for ridiculous spectacles, and who does ridiculous spectacles better than the Vegas Golden Knights?

JR didn’t disappoint heading into Wednesday’s NBCSN doubleheader, which closes out with the Golden Knights hosting the Anaheim Ducks.

[WATCH LIVE – 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

At the bottom of this post, you’ll see Roenick go marching in, but it’s his “training” as an archer for the Golden Knights’ Medieval Times-style pregame shows that really takes the (cheese)cake.

(Personal highlight, beyond Roenick in archer garb, was an alarmed JR asking: “Commence, does that mean start?”)

Enjoy that affably goofy video in the clip above this post’s headline. Also, you can tune into the first game of that doubleheader (St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks) as we speak.

The NBCSN Wednesday night doubleheader continues with the Vegas Golden Knights hosting the Anaheim Ducks at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

Capitals need emergency backup with Holtby out

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Facing the Winnipeg Jets with your number two goalie starting and an emergency backup behind him isn’t exactly the ideal scenario, but that’s what the Washington Capitals face tonight.

Hey, things happen during an 82-game season.

Braden Holtby‘s out with an upper-body injury, giving way to wonderfully named Pheonix Copley. (Do you think Pheonix Copley knows Micheal Ferland? They should be best friends, right?)

Copley isn’t just facing the high-powered Jets unexpectedly. He’s also dealing with back-to-back starts, so this could be a real challenge.

The Washington Post’s Isabelle Kurshudyan reports that Holtby’s upper-body injury isn’t believed to be serious, so perhaps Capitals fans can enjoy some of the novelty aspects of this situation?

Of course, the novelty aspects that stand out the most is the guy who was pressed into backup duty out of the blue. That fellow is 6-foot-7 Gavin McHale, 31, who serves as the goalie coach for the University of Manitoba women’s team.

PHT’s Scott Billeck notes that McHale has been thrust into this sort of role before, so the giant netminder is at least collecting some lightly-worn NHL sweaters and strange memories to share at cocktail parties.

Not having Holtby ranks as “not fun,” but the rest of this could be entertaining. Also: NBC Sports Washington’s J.J. Regan notes that it’s possible that highly touted goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov could end up being called up depending upon how this works out over the next few days, so that could be fun, too.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Blues find themselves at the bottom of the Central Division eneytering Wednesday’s meeting. Chicago took the first two meetings in overtime, but St. Louis got one back with a 7-3 victory on Oct. 27.

New Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton is still looking for his first win since replacing Joel Quenneville. Chicago is 0-2-1 under Colliton, which has extended their losing streak to eight games. That loss to the Blues was the game that started this current slide. They’ve not had a nine-game losing streak since the 2011-12 NHL season.

“I believe we’re on the right track. I believe we will turn this around. I think we’ve got really good players,” said Colliton. “When things are going against you over a long period of time, it’s not easy to get out of it. The circumstances are what they are. We’ve got to find a way to get it done. We can and we will.”

The dark clouds that were above the Blues earlier this season have brightened as they’ve won four of their last six. During that six-game stretch they’ve sliced their goals against per game from 4 to 2.5. Ryan O'Reilly is also excelling with eight goals and 17 points during a 10-game point streak.

Jake Allen‘s play was a factor in the Blues’ slow start, which opened the door for Chad Johnson, who’s played well in net for the last three games. He’s stopped 86 of the last 90 shots he’s faced and will get his chance to continue to shine during this current three-game road trip. Tonight, however, it’s Allen’s net versus the Blackhawks.

“He’s been our best player. You’ve seen countless times the big saves he’s making that are giving us a chance to win,” O’Reilly said about Johnson. “He’s stood on his head and it’s helped a lot. It’s helped us find our groove and do some good things. We have to be better in front of him, though.”

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, November 14th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden Schwartz – Ryan O’Reilly – Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby FabbriTyler BozakAlexander Steen
Zach SanfordRobert ThomasDavid Perron
Patrick MaroonIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz
Joel EdmundsonJay Bouwmeester

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

BLACKHAWKS
Nick SchmaltzJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane
Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovJohn Hayden
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfDominik Kahun
Chris Kunitz – Luke Johnson – Andreas Martinsen

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonHenri Jokiharju
Brandon Manning – Gustav Forling

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule