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LOUGHLIN: Rafalski may star in Olympics

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foxsports admin

 
   
 
Instead of heading for vacation, four of the Devils are bound for Salt Lake City, and Brian Rafalski is the only one representing the United States. For the Michigan native, it will be his first Olympics. He was seven years old during the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980, which was the last time the U.S. won a gold medal. In the next 10 days, he'll have a chance to bring this country some more hardware. Rafalski will be joined by some family and friends, and he hopes to soak up the Olympic atmosphere and even take in some of the events. "I want to see the bobsled and short track speed skating. I'd also like to see the ski jump," he said. But he added that his first priority at the Games will be to play hockey, and he will try to balance the thrill of representing his country with the pressure to win a medal. "I am going to go there and enjoy it," Rafalski said. "It probably won't feel as much like work as this (playing for the Devils) does. It's going to be the biggest crowd ever cheering the USA, but once you get out there, you're just playing hockey." While it may seem like more fun than work, Rafalski keeps the ultimate goal in mind. "Anything less than a medal will be a disappointment," he said. For Rafalski, the Olympics could be a kind of coming out party. Following college, the defenseman played one year in Sweden and three in Finland, so his international experience will help him. First, he's going to have a much shorter time of adjustment to the different style of play. Also, with the larger rink, his skating ability will come to the forefront. While Rafalski has had a nice run with the Devils, their system doesn't allow players to open up much. On a bigger surface, there's more room to be creative, so the Olympics will give him the opportunity to shine. Rafalski's offensive abilities are definitely going to help out the U.S. All the defenseman head coach Herb Brooks picked — Rafalski, Brian Leetch, Tom Poti and Phil Housley — are offensive defenseman. They all skate well and can move the puck. These guys all have the ability to attack, but they have such great speed that they'll be able to get back on defense. The U.S. is a definite medal threat, and I think people are going to see a different Brian Rafalski.

Rules, Rules, Rules ...

In the Olympics, players must follow the international rules, and there are some key differences between those and the NHL's. Icing: After the puck crosses the goal line in the NHL, the defending team has to touch the puck in order for the whistle to be blown. In international play, it's called automatically. Rink dimensions: In the NHL, the rink is 85 x 200, and the goal lines are 11 feet from each end of the rink. In Olympic hockey, it's 98.5 x 200, and the goal lines are 13 feet from either end. No center line: The NHL prohibits two-line passes. There is no such rule in international hockey. Goalies and the puck: In the NHL, a goalie can freeze the puck anywhere in the defensive zone, provided somebody is near him. In international play, the goalie gets a minor penalty if he falls on the puck behind the goal line. Fisticuffs: Fighting is a major penalty in the NHL. It's a match penalty in international play and will result in an ejection. Protecting the goalie: If an attacking player is in the crease (unless he's interfering with the goaltender), play continues in the NHL. Under international rules, if a player is deliberately in the goal crease, play is stopped and the officials bring the faceoff out to the neutral zone. Time: The clock runs from 0:00 to 20:00 in the Olympics rather than counting down from 20:00 to 0:00. There is going to be some amazing hockey during the Olympics, but I think Canada will come out on top. Matt Loughlin works as pre- and post-game host for Fox Sports New York's New Jersey Devils telecasts, a capacity he has served in since 1990. He can also be seen calling play-by-play on selected Devils telecasts, as well as hosting pre- and post-game shows for the New York Mets. Matt's commentary appears regularly on MSGNetwork.com.
Tagged: Flames, Oilers, Devils, Rangers, Tom Poti, Brian Rafalski

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