Rafalski and Weight Call it a Career

The NHL lost two veterans to retirement this week, Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski (11 seasons) and New York Islanders center Doug Weight (19 seasons). Both American players had stellar careers, highlighted by winning every hockey player’s dream — the Stanley Cup.

Rafalski joined the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 as an undrafted free agent from the University of Wisconsin, whom the team’s scouts found playing over in Europe (for four years!). Perhaps his size (5’10”, 195 lbs.) was the reason he was overlooked by the other 29 NHL clubs, but he seamlessly fit in on the Devils’ blue line and partnered with legend Scott Stevens immediately and never looked back. As a 25-year-old rookie he helped guide New Jersey to a championship in 2000 and a return to the Finals in 2001. He was a major part of the Devils 2003 Cup win as well and also won silver medals with Team USA at the Olympics in 2002 and 2010. In 2007 he signed with the Red Wings as a free agent to be closer to his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan and the move paid off for both parties — Rafalski and Detroit hoisted the Cup in 2008 and made in back to the Finals in 2009. This past season he spent a lot of time playing hurt and missed a handful of games, which can be eye-opening for some athletes that the time has come to hang up the skates. “There wasn’t a day this year that I wasn’t on the training table,” he said at his retirement press conference, “That gets tiring.” He retired with one year ($6 million) left on his contract, citing that family is most important now, “What I’ll be doing first and foremost is serving my family; I’ll be definitely looking to help others. I don’t know what that’s going to entail yet, but that will be my focus.”

Rafalski’s career totals: (regular season) 79 goals, 438 assists, 515 points, plus-178, 833 games/(playoffs) 29 goals, 71 assists, 100 points, plus-42, 165 games/(olympics) 13 points in 17 games

Weight had a much different path to the NHL, he was drafted 34th overall by the New York Rangers in the 1990 NHL Draft out of Lake Superior State University and made his NHL debut in a 1990 playoff game with the Blueshirts. He played parts of two seasons with the Rangers before being traded to Edmonton in a deal that helped New York secure the 1994 Stanley Cup. A scoring dynamo with the Oilers, he was part of one of the most dynamic lines in hockey with Bill Guerin and Ryan Smyth; Weight never reached the Finals in Edmonton and was sent to St. Louis in another blockbuster deal prior to the 2001-02 season.  After two and a half seasons with the Blues he was traded to Carolina in 2006 and finally lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup after the Hurricanes’ amazing playoff run, topping the Edmonton Oilers in a thrilling seven-game series. The following summer he re-signed with the Blues and played another 111 games before being shipped to Anaheim at the trade deadline. Prior to the 2008-09 season he signed with the Islanders, a place he and his family now call home. He provided leadership and guidance for the young Isles and was almost like a father-figure for their players; he even had John Tavares live with his family during Tavares’ rookie season. A severe back injury limited his time to only 18 games this past season, but at the end of the season he resurfaced  behind the Isles’ bench as an assistant coach, a preview of things to come. In announcing his retirement on May 26, it was also announced that he is now an assistant coach and special assistant ‘to’ GM Garth Snow (sounds very much like Dwight Schrute’s job!).

Weight’s career totals: (regular season) 278 goals, 755 assists, 1,033  points, 80 power play goals, minus-58, 1,238 games/(playoffs) 23 goals, 49 assists, 72 points, minus-13, 97 games/(olympics) 8 points in 16 games

Are they both Hall-of-Famers? Is just one of them destined for the Hall or will neither make it? Hard to say, but I think Weight could make it. They both will surely make the USA Hockey Hall of Fame. I’d just like to add that I had the privilege of interviewing both players during their careers and they were both class acts who made my job fun and a lot easier.

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Devils-Oilers Postgame Quotes [11.12.10]

Here are the postgame quotes from the Devils-Oilers game:

Brian Rolston:

Talking about his return to the lineup…

“I’ve been out of the lineup 14 games so tonight was a bit of a battle (physically), but we got through it.”

It seems like the team is finally starting to play well together, do you agree?

“Well we looked a little better obviously; it always feels good to win for sure. There is still a long road ahead of us and we have to get (even) better.”

Can you talk about the goal you scored tonight?

“It was just a good play, a hard-working shift by our whole line. Clarkie (David Clarkson) came around the net, wrapped the puck and I just got the rebound; I was basically on top of the goalie so I didn’t have to shovel it too far.”

It came at a crucial point in the game though…

“Yeah absolutely; especially after they go up 3-1 and especially with the way things have gone around here, it was a character win for us to come back.”

Patrik Elias:

How big was it for Ilya to get that goal in overtime?

“Well obviously it was big, I’m pretty sure he’s relieved and it was a big goal for all of us.”

What were your impressions of Tedenby’s game tonight?

“I think I’m going to have to answer that about 50 times tonight (laughs), it’s okay. He’s played well, and he’s played well in both games he’s been here. He makes good plays, holds onto the puck, he’s poised with it and we had a couple of great cycles going. We had a lot of good (scoring) opportunities; hopefully the puck will start going in for us a little bit more. We had a lot of good chances in the first and second periods, we have to stay with it, play that way, have fun and it’ll go in.”

It seems like despite his size (listed modestly at 5’10”) he’s not afraid to go into the corners and bang bodies with some of the bigger players, do you agree?

“Yeah it’s tough to play against those small guys though…just look at Gionta — both of them (smiles). It’s tough to defend those guys, they’re usually very quick. Sometimes he may draw a penalty (on the opponent) because they’re so small. He’ll get better as we go along.”

Is there anything that you have to tell him during the game?

“We talk, we talk a lot. We talk power play, what do we want to do, we talk five-on-five; you know sometimes when he needs to be aggressive and when he needs to be poised. It’s a learning process and he’s asking questions.”

Ilya Kovalchuk:

How do you feel about how the game went?

“I thought we played real well, our start was there — we had a couple of great chances but they scored those two goals. But we never gave up, it was a great team effort and a great comeback; we’re definitely going to build on this.”

Did you want that puck at the end, did you want to get that goal?

“Yeah that what Oatesy (assistant coach Adam Oates) drew up on the board there during the timeout and we went started in a box and then went into the umbrella.”

Does it make you feel good to finally get that win at home?

“Yeah, it took us a while but sometimes you have to go all the way to the bottom. We have that win now and maybe we’ll start playing better and feeling better. We have a lot of guys back (in the lineup) now and that helps. Especially those veteran defenseman and Marty (Brodeur); we have some great young kids who play really hard but they were struggling because they don’t have much experience.”

Is that where you felt you were, rock bottom?

“Yeah; it couldn’t get worse.”

Personally?

“I think for everybody. Especially after that last game, you just have to smile at those things and move on.”

How did it feel to score that goal?

“It feels good. But we’re still, I don’t know, 14th or 15th in our conference, which is not where we want to be.”

Where did your shot beat the goalie?

“Low glove hand, I think right over his leg pad.”

When the game went to overtime how badly think you think ‘I want to be the guy tonight’?

“I think everybody was looking for it because when you step on the ice you want to score and help the team win. That’s our job.”

Can this be a win that sparks the team and leads you guys to reel a few (wins) off?

“That’s what we need. We have a big road trip coming up against three teams that play really well and it’ll be a good challenge for us.”

What did you think of (Alexander) Vasuynov’s goal?

“It was nice; he’s a guy that works really hard. My countryman (smiles), he got the first of many I hope; last year Zharky (Vladimir Zharkov) was here and he couldn’t get a goal. I really wanted him to score so he has confidence when he has the puck.”

Mattias Tedenby:

You could have had two goals tonight…

“Yeah, I know, I missed that one opportunity I had there on the power play when Clarkie shot and I got the rebound.”

When you did score it felt pretty good right?

“Yeah, exactly. It felt very good when I scored out there on the second PP.”

The deflection hit off the shaft of your stick or the blade?

“I think it was my blade.”

Did someone get the puck for you?

“Yeah I think so. I saw the puck before, but I don’t know where it is now.”

This is pretty easy right, you got a goal and an assist your first two games?

“I’m playing with good players and I’m just trying to work hard. Arnie (Jason Arnott) and Elias give me a lot of space (to work with) with smart passes.”

Koval-Choke Becomes Koval-Clutch!

Devils 4 Edmonton 3           overtime

In the span of 48 hours, Ilya Kovalchuk experienced first hand why so many people love sports — the agony of heart-breaking losses, and the thrill of dramatic, heart-stopping victories. On Wednesday night when his New Jersey Devils lost to the Buffalo Sabres, Kovalchuk never got to take his shootout attempt because the puck jumped off of his stick blade as he was stickhandling — sending him to the locker room frustrated and embarrassed.

After a solid day of practice, he was ready to move on, “It’s all history. Today the sun is up and everything is good,” Kovalchuk said on Thursday with a fresh outlook. “Tomorrow we have to win because we don’t have a win at home yet; that’s embarrassing.”

Friday night at Prudential Center it was Kovalchuk who accomplished that mission when he scored the winning goal — in overtime, capping a rally that saw New Jersey get off the mat after falling behind 3-1 to the young Edmonton Oilers. Throughout the game the Russian sniper had a handful of shots that never reached the net and entering overtime, he had still yet to register a shot on goal.

Despite only having scored three goals in fifteen games and despite all of his recent lack of puck-luck, he continued to work hard and 2:15 into the five-minute o.t. he drew a penalty on Edmonton’s Dustin Penner who tripped him at center ice along the boards. The Devils coach, John MacLean, called a timeout and before a minute had elapsed in Penner’s penalty, Kovalchuk had won the game with a rocket shot past Oilers’ goalie Devan Dubnyk from the left circle. “It feels good. But we’re still, I don’t know, 14th or 15th in our conference,” said Kovalchuk, “which is not where we want to be.”

Before the game was ten minutes old, New Jersey found themselves down by two goals — thanks in large part to Edmonton’s Colin Fraser, who scored both. The Devils continued to fire shots at Dubnyk and 5:57 after Fraser’s second tally, rookie Alexander Vasyunov took a pass from Travis Zajac and scored his first career NHL goal on a nice redirection in front of the crease.

Sam Gagner restored the two-goal bulge for the Oilers when he scored on a rebound 5:11 into the second period, silencing the crowd at the Rock who came hoping to see the first home win of the season. The next ten minutes were frustrating for New Jersey as they fired shot after shot at Dubnyk and had nothing to show for it until Brian Rolston finally scored with 3:08 left in the period. On the scoring play, David Clarkson’s wraparound attempt was denied but the loose puck came right to Rolston who was standing in the blue paint of the crease. “It was just a good play, a hard-working shift by our whole line. Clarkie came around the net, wrapped the puck and I just got the rebound,” explained Rolston, “I was basically on top of the goalie so I didn’t have to shovel it too far.”

With 15:31 left in the third period rookie Mattias Tedenby (playing in his second NHL game) thought he had scored his first career goal, but was robbed by Dubnyk’s sharp glove hand. The 20-year old Swede finally got his first career goal when he tied the game with 9:00 left on the power play. Andy Greene fired a shot from the blueline that Tedenby deflected from the slot and under the Edmonton netminder. “I think it hit my (stick) blade,” said the diminutive rookie after the game. “It felt very good when I scored out there.”

Kovalchuk was able to complete the comeback for the Devils in overtime and for the second game in a row they scored four goals — perhaps a sign that they are coming out of their season-long collective slumps. “Obviously it was big,’ said Patrik Elias (2 assists) after the game. “I’m pretty sure he’s relieved and it was a big goal for all of us.” Kovalchuk concurred, adding, “We never gave up, it was a great team effort and a great comeback; we’re definitely going to build on this.”

Game Notes: Kovalchuk now has eleven career overtime goals, which ranks third in NHL history; his teammate Elias is tied for first all-time with 15. Rolston returned to the lineup after missing 14 games due to a sports hernia. Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney led all players with five blocked shots, led all skaters with 30:26 of ice-time and he also chipped in with two assists; Greene led the Devils in ice-time with 27:39. Elias led all players with six shots on goal, while Edmonton rookie Taylor Hall (last June’s no. 1 overall draft pick) led his team with five. Both captains didn’t play in the game due to injury — New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner (soreness) and Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff (thigh bruise). Fraser’s two goals were the first two of the season for him. New Jersey (5-10-2) is off until Monday when they play at Boston (8-4-1) while Edmonton (4-8-3) next plays Sunday afternoon at MSG against New York (8-7-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw/pp goal (4)

#2 – Colin Fraser (Edm) – 2 goals (2)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (9)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.