Brian Rafalski's remarkable journey as an elite NHL defenseman came with a few perks.
He had the opportunity to skate with Scott Stevens for the majority of his seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils. He also had the luxury of skating with Nicklas Lidstrom as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
"Every player is different and everyone has different skill sets, but the one common denominator with Scotty and Nick was that they both had a presence on the ice," Rafalski said. "They were able to control the game just by being on the ice and I was very comfortable being the second guy to them."
Rafalski, who will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Dec. 4, proved to be a lot more than just a complementary player. He provided tremendous support and allowed both Stevens and Lidstrom to thrive in their roles on a regular basis.
"Brian was very intelligent and learned how to use his body at a time when the hockey being played in Finland resembled the systems in North America so he just grew," Devils general manager and 2012 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Lou Lamoriello said. "His offensive skills, instincts, hockey sense, and the way he handled himself made him a tremendous complement to Scott Stevens."
Rafalski considered himself a good complementary player to Stevens and Lidstrom.
"I really felt playing with Scott and Nick was a good role for me because I'd do whatever I needed to do to allow them to do what they do so well," Rafalski said. "Scotty was that hard-hitting defenseman, and guys like him are few and far between in today's game. Nick's vision on the ice and understanding of what is going on was second to none."
USA Hockey assistant executive director of hockey operations Jim Johannson will always remember Rafalski as the player who would excel with any defensive partner.
"No matter who you paired Brian with, that would always be a good pairing," Johannson said. "I don't know if understated is the right word but he just went about his business and had himself prepared but you know his teammates realized how steady he was and you knew what to expect every night."