Walleye mourn loss of teammate

Players reflect on Rufenach's life

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    Walleye player Bryan Rufenach skates the puck up the ice against the Greenville Road Warriors in January.

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  • Walleye player Bryan Rufenach skates the puck up the ice against the Greenville Road Warriors in January.
    Walleye player Bryan Rufenach skates the puck up the ice against the Greenville Road Warriors in January.

    Two of Bryan Rufenach's Toledo Walleye defensive partners struggled on Wednesday to make sense of their teammate's sudden death.

    Defensemen Kyle Page and Phil Rauch both were paired up with Rufenach during the young player's first full pro season in Toledo.

    Rufenach, 23, died after touching an overhead power line at a train station in Grindelwald, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

    "I'm still at a loss for words," Rauch said. "I can't believe what happened. It's so tragic."

    According to the Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten, Rufenach died around 3:30 in the morning on Tuesday.

    Rufenach was with a childhood friend on a backpacking tour through Europe. The pair had climbed aboard a stationary train car at the station in Grindelwald when he touched the overhead line and was electrocuted.

    Rufenach's friend tried to resuscitate him, and an ambulance was called to the scene. Rufenach died of his injuries, according to the newspaper.

    "There's no way to prepare for something like this," Page said. "It's not like he was sick and had time to prepare for it. The way it happened and where it happened is kind of surreal. It's like a movie almost. It's just so sad."

    Bryan Rufenach
    Bryan Rufenach

    A native of Barrie, Ont., Rufenach was a rising prospect in the Detroit Red Wings' system. He played in 54 games last season for the Walleye and was the team's third-leading scorer.

    Rufenach, 6-foot and 192 pounds, scored 13 goals last season. He was the team's top scoring defenseman and was ranked third among all ECHL defensemen in goals scored.

    "We were partners for half the year," Rauch said. "He was an awesome player to play with.

    "I always told him you can skate it up and I will stay back for you. He scored all the goals. I just stayed back."

    Rufenach tallied four goals in one game against the Chicago Express on Nov. 4.

    "He was my D partner for parts of two seasons," Page said. "He had a really good year and was looking to build off that. All of the sudden he's gone."

    Rufenach was selected by the Red Wings in the seventh round of the 2007 NHL draft. He signed his first pro contract with the Walleye on March 25, 2011.

    Page said when he first heard the news by text message on Tuesday, his thoughts about Rufenach were more about him off the ice.

    "He had an outgoing personality. He went with the flow," Page said. "He was a good kid. He meant well. After games everyone got together. He was always there hanging out and mingling with guys."

    Rauch said that Rufenach always seemed to be in an upbeat mood.

    "He was a great guy, easy to talk to," Rauch said. "When you'd come to the rink, he'd always say something to crack you up."

    Rauch, a native of Lambertville, said the players stayed in the same apartment complex in South Toledo and he lived next to Rufenach.

    "He'd come over and we'd hang out all the time," Rauch said.

    Page, who played at Bowling Green State University, said Rufenach had talked about going overseas this summer.

    Rufenach had been traveling in Europe for the last month, staying in hostels. The pair was set to come home at the end of this week.

    The friends had checked into the Mountain Hostel in Grindelwald, close to the train station. Rufenach's friend was uninjured and "was still struggling at the accident site to [save] Rufenach's life" when paramedics arrived, according to the Swiss newspaper.

    "I can't believe he's gone," Rauch said.

    Page said Rufenach was called up to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League right after the Walleye's season ended.

    "I didn't have a chance to say good-bye," Page said. "You always assume you can start fresh next year and see the same faces here in Toledo. I was used to seeing him in the locker room. Now he won't be there. It will be tough."

    Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said on the team's Web site that Rufenach was a prospect that had gotten better every year.

    "He was a very personable young man," Nill said. "Everybody loved him, he was full of energy and just starting his pro career. He knew what he wanted to do, a very smart young man and very focused."

    After a four-year college career at Clarkson University, Rufenach played in the final six games of Toledo's 2010-11 season.

    Last season he finished with 33 points (13 goals and 20 assists). Rufenach was called up to Grand Rapids three times and had two assists in 13 games.

    Grand Rapids coach Curt Fraser said Rufenach had a bright future ahead of him.

    "Bryan was an up-and-coming player in our organization who improved a great deal this season," Fraser said in a press release.

    "He was a really good kid -- smart and quiet -- who understood his role, worked hard every day he came to the rink, and was a pleasure to coach."

    Walleye goalie Carter Hutton posted about Rufenach's death on Twitter.

    "I had a chance to play with Bryan this season, great player better person. Keep him in your prayers," Hutton tweeted.

    Former Walleye forward Willie Coetzee said on Twitter that his thoughts and prayers were with the Rufenach family.

    "We will miss you. Why someone needs to be taken so young," Coetzee said.

    Rufenach is survived by his parents, Eileen and Doug, an older sister, Michelle, and an older brother, Mark.

    Rauch said he plans to dedicate the Walleye's season to Rufenach.

    "We'll do it for him," he said.

    Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.