Sorry, nostalgic Red Wings fans. The Brian Rafalski comeback dream is over.
The puck-moving defenseman retired after the 2010-11 season, citing knee and back injuries, but got the itch again after playing in the Winter Classic alumni game at Comerica Park a month ago. Within two weeks, Rafalski, 40, had signed with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. The tryout made sense given his family had settled in Fort Myers, Fla., and he was a youth coach for the junior Everblades.
The comeback ended after three games, however, as Rafalski re-retired today. He didn’t look out of place with the Everblades and picked up an assist, but the pain in his back was too unbearable. He sat out a week between his first and second game and, after he played two in a row Jan. 17 and 18, the back continued to act up. He told reporters today he’s “done.”
It’s too bad, because this was no recreational comeback. Rafalski wanted to play his way back to the NHL. With Detroit? Maybe, but the Wings had granted Rafalski his release so he could begin his comeback closer to home.
Seeing Rafalski’s body break down after just three games is a sobering reminder of how rare it is for a 40-year-old body to hold up the rigors of pro sports. It should make us appreciate rare specimens like Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Daniel Alfredsson that much more. They are the exception, not the norm.
Rafalski calls it quits again and maintains his legacy as a classy, consistently solid offensive defenseman. He won Stanley Cups with New Jersey in 2000 and 2003 and with the Wings in 2008.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin