Toledo Walleye players Kyle Rogers (17) left, and Bryan Rufenach (21) right, celebrate a first period goal by Rogers against the Chicago Express in an ECHL opener at Huntington Center, Saturday.
When Walleye defenseman Bryan Rufenach got a call in 2007 informing him that he’d been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings he didn’t buy it.
Rufenach, a 22-year-old in his first season with Toledo, simply didn’t believe the person on the other end of the line was Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
“When I got the call, I thought it was a joke,” Rufenach said. “I thought it was my brother or one of my friends. But when he said it was the GM from the Red Wings, I started listening to see if I could tell the voice.”
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Indeed it was Holland who was calling to inform Rufenach that he was the organization’s pick in the seventh round of the NHL draft.
Rufenach said he had just finished a second straight, injury-filled season playing for a major Junior A team in Ontario, Canada. He said he didn’t expect to be drafted because he had injured his leg and also dislocated his shoulder, which limited his effectiveness and playing time.
Rufenach said he came back strong from the injuries which led to brief discussions with a few NHL teams, including the Red Wings.
ON THE HOOK
Jersey Number: 21
Ht./Wt: 5-11, 192
Born: April 15, 1989
Favorite type of music: All kinds. I have over 5,000 songs on my iPod.
Favorite food: Lobster
Favorite beverage: Welch's grape juice
Favorite Movie: Inception
Favorite place you've been to?: Costa Rica
Favorite sport other than hockey: Fishing
Have you ever eaten Walleye?: Oh yeah! I used to go every night and catch walleye. Right after one game, we went to The Blarney [Irish Pub] and I ordered Walleye. The waitress looked at me kind of funny.
Hockey player you admired growing up: Paul Coffey. He was a smooth skating defenseman that jumped into the rush and made things happen.
What would you be doing if you weren't playing hockey?: I'd like to become a stock broker. I majored in finance. I've been playing the stock markets since I was 13. My father and I devised a system. I've been doing well off my stocks.
What song would you like to have played when you score a goal?: When I scored my fourth goal [in last Wednesday's game] I thought it would have been funny if they played The Roof is on Fire.
Something nobody knows about you: I have never eaten a McDonald's hamburger. I've been there a few times, but I've only had a chicken sandwich. The hamburgers don't entice me. They don't look too good to me.
“I watched a bit of the draft on TV, but I actually shut it off,” he said. “That was something I definitely wasn’t expecting.”
After a four-year college career at Clarkson University, Rufenach has started off his first season in the Red Wings’ system with a bang.
Rufenach, who had scored a total of four goals in 33 games his senior year at Clarkson, erupted for four goals in one game against Chicago last Wednesday.
“It happened so quick,” said Rufenach, who tallied two goals in the second and two more in the third.
“I thought it was a great thing. I put in a lot of work and some bounces went my way. I want to keep on going forward from there. I feel like I’m on a little roll.”
Since, Rufenach has scored two more goals, including one in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to Cincinnati, and now has five. The native of Barrie, Ontario leads all ECHL defensemen in goals scored.
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said Rufenach “simplified his game” in the last few contests.
“He is an offensive guy who likes to jump into the play,” Vitucci said.
Rufenach hopes his strong showing will eventually lead to a call up from Toledo, Detroit’s Double-A affiliate, to Grand Rapids, the Red Wings’ Triple-A affiliate.
Rufenach said his excitement at being drafted was amplified when he was chosen by Detroit.
“It’s such a good organization. They have a good track record of drafting players in the lower rounds and developing them [into NHL-caliber players],” he said. “It’s a good, winning atmosphere.”
However, Toledo has yet to find consistent success in the early going this season.
The Walleye’s record fell to 3-8-0 with Tuesday’s lost.
The team is last in the ECHL North Division.
While Rufenach said the team is not panicking 11 games into a 72-game season, a sense of urgency is building.
“Whenever you lose games there is concern,” he said. “We just have to find out how to get better. We need to make things more simple and not get ahead of ourselves and take it one shift at a time.”
Rufenach earned the team’s player of the week honors. He now ranks second on the team in points with eight (5 goals and 3 assists). At Clarkson last year, Rufenach finished with 11 points in 33 games.
Rufenach attributed his early success to his style meshing well with the pro game.
“In college there were all kinds of systems and traps,” he said. “Here I feel like I’m coming up the ice with the puck a lot more open. It definitely favors my game.”
Rufenach led all defensemen in points in his last three years at Clarkson. In four seasons, Rufenach scored 21 goals and had 34 assists in 136 games.
He actually started his pro career in Toledo late last season. He played in six games with the Walleye and had one goal and one assist.
“It was good to get a taste of what to expect this year,” Rufenach said.
Rufenach said his plan all along has been to “move up and hopefully make it to the NHL.”
“That’s been my goal since I started skating,” he said. “This is my first year and it’s a stepping stone. I’m learning how to be a professional hockey player here.”
After Wednesday’s game, the Walleye will start an eight-game homestand on Saturday when Reading comes to the Huntington Center for a 7 p.m. faceoff.
“It is a great rink and I love the atmosphere,” Rufenach said.
“It’s good for a team with young players that are just getting adjusted and finding our way.”
FISH TALES: Toledo is 1-3-0 in its last four games. ... Rufenach scored all four goals in the 7-4 loss to Chicago. It was the most scored by a Walleye player since Evan Rankin scored five times in a win at Charlotte on Feb. 18, 2010. … G Carter Hutton has started five straight games and is 2-5-0 this season. ... Toledo is second in the ECHL in attendance, averaging 6,632 per contest. ... F Adam Estoclet (2 goals, 3 assists) has the longest point streak of the season for a Walleye player with at least one point in five straight games. ... The organization is holding a youth hockey jamboree prior to Saturday’s game from 12:30 to 4 p.m. The event is sponsored by USA Hockey for players 8-and-under. For more info call 419-725-WALL or go to toledowalleye.com.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.