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The Malik Report

Innocent accident cost Red Wings prospect Bryan Rufenach his life

The Red Wings, Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye released statements regarding the untimely passing of Bryan Rufenach, a 23-year-old Wings prospect, and this evening, WWNY TV reveals that the circumstances of his passing are sadly as simple as can be:

University officials say 23 year old Bryan Rufenach, a draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings who played at Clarkson from 2007 to 2011, was on a backpacking tour of Europe when he touched an energized overhead line while attempting to board a train Tuesday and was electrocuted.

Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose penned a tribute to Rufenach and confirmed via 20min.ch‘s Nathalie Jufer that his passing was accidental, but not as simple as reported here. Here’s her story about his passing, translated (quite well) from Swiss-German:

The Canadian hockey player Bryan Rufenach, 23, was on a European trip. In the Berner Oberland through a little carelessness he came to an abrupt death. In his homeland, there’s sadness.

The 23-year-old, Bryan Rufenach, was with a friend from Kindergarten on a backpacking trip through Euorpe. One of the last stops was Grindewald, where the two checked in at the Mountain Hostel. At the end of the week they were to return home. This would not happen for Rufenach: In the night on Tuesday, the young Canadian was killed in Grindelwald by an electric shock.

He had climbed on a stationary train car with his buddy at the Grindelwald-Grund train station, and there he touched an overhead power line. His companion fought at the accident site to save Rufenach’s life—in vain. The athlete died of his injuries.

“The Whole team is distraught”

In Canada and the United States, Bryan Rufenach was no stranger: the 23-year-old from Eastern Canada began his first professional season with the U.S. team Toledo Walleye and was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings. The shock about the Walleye-defender’s sudden death is great in the Walleye’s home town: “The entire team is distraught,” said Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci yesterday.

“We send our thoughts to Bryan’s family.”

On Twitter friends and teammates of the professional athlete expressed their grief: “He was a great guy. I’m still shocked,” said teammate Riley Emerson on Tuesday.

As for Roose’s tribute:

“He was a very personable young man,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “Everybody loved him, he was full of energy and just starting his pro career. He had a great college career and he was hoping to really get his feet wet in pro hockey this year.”

The 23-year-old defenseman played in 54 games last season for the Toledo Walleye, the Wings’ minor-league affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League. Rufenach, who played four seasons at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., also played in 13 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins last season.

“Each year he got better and better and he really became one of the top defensemen in college hockey and then last year was his first year as a pro.”

In his last three college seasons, Rufenach led or tied for the lead in defensive scoring for the Golden Knights. A finance major, he was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Academic team following his sophomore season. Last year, Rufenach told the Toledo Blade newspaper that had wanted to travel the world, and once his hockey career ended he wanted to become a stock broker.

“He knew what he wanted to do, a very smart young man and very focused,” Nill said. “He had great hockey sense and very smart on the ice. He was a very big man, but he sure played hard, he was tough for his size.”

Wings center Cory Emmerton was drafted in 2006, a year ahead of Rufenach and the 2007 draft class. While Emmerton never got to know the former seventh-round pick, news of Rufenach’s death stirred some emotions.

“I didn’t know him very well, though I met him through development camps and stuff,” Emmerton said. “He was in college so he wasn’t always around. He just went to Grand Rapids and Toledo this year so I really didn’t get to see him too much. But I knew him and whenever you meet someone in the hockey world that passes at a young age it’s really sad. It doesn’t matter if you know them well; it’s never easy to see.”

Roose also compiled a slate of tributes to Rufenach from his Griffins and Walleye teammates.

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Forlorn in VA's avatar

Tragic.  My heart goes out to his family.

Posted by Forlorn in VA on 06/06/12 at 09:47 PM ET


Bad title. That isn’t horseplay. It’s a tragic accident.

Posted by Scott from Toronto on 06/06/12 at 10:41 PM ET

HockeyFanOhio's avatar

Very sad to see someone so young and full of life die so tragically.  Prayers for his family, friends and teammates.

Posted by HockeyFanOhio from Central Ohio on 06/06/12 at 10:45 PM ET

George Malik's avatar


Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/06/12 at 10:49 PM ET


Hi first name is spelled with “Bryan”  also…

Posted by Julie from Traverse City, MI on 06/06/12 at 11:16 PM ET


in the title is where I was referring to the misspelling of Bryan…

Posted by Julie from Traverse CIty, MI on 06/06/12 at 11:18 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Wow, that’s poor on my part. I’m sorry.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/06/12 at 11:31 PM ET


Dear Sir

Bryan was not just boarding a train but climbing on top of it before touching the live wires.

Sorry to say, but he was playing with his life.


You ca check the information on Swiss news sites e.g.  blick.ch

Posted by Observer from NL on 06/07/12 at 06:30 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

Yeah, that’s what the German report stated. “He climbed on a stationary train car” tells the tale accurately, and as you can see above, the Swiss story is quoted.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/07/12 at 07:09 AM ET


It was a very tragic accident. And an accident it was - not horseplay! It was two young men having the time of their life.
Reporters and whoever else that feels the need to comment on it when they in fact have no personal experience or knowledge to the situation should not be making assumptions. Be a little more respectful to those involved.
Especially the comment stating that his friend tried to save his life ‘in vain’ ..
Come on. Does anyone have any idea what his friend could be going through right now?! No.
So I suggest people get the facts straight and leave it at that. Have some respect. It was an extremely tragic accident that no one could have really prevented.
My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.

Posted by Saddened Reader on 06/07/12 at 02:41 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I’ve done my best to not pass judgment, but I don’t see any problem with Ms. Jufer’s bluntness. Aside from saying that German is a very heavy-handed language in that regard, it’s just not her job to be polite, nor is it my job to omit that bluntness from my translation.

I’ve read more than a few comments on Twitter suggesting that Rufenach did something very stupid, reckless, and/or that he was kind of asking for it. I don’t feel that way and I’m not going to suggest anything like that.

I met him, spoke with him, follows him since he was drafted five years ago. All I hope for is some peace for him and deep and heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of someone gone too soon.

But that doesn’t mean that criticism of his behavior in media reports will simply be glossed over. Most reporters and journalists aren’t paid to be sensitive or sympathetic, and that’s okay.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/07/12 at 03:31 PM ET



as a good friend of Bry’s I dont appreciate some of the language the swiss reporter used, or you defending her. report what she said, and leave it at that. I do not appreciate you referring to my friend doing anything “stupid” or “reckless”.  You met and spoke to him did you? You did not know him Mr. Malik. Show some respect and dont type another thing about Bryan’s accident.

Zach Swain

Posted by ZACH SWAIN from Lindsay ontario on 06/07/12 at 09:47 PM ET


Mr. Swain –

The smartest, nicest, most likable people in the world are still all human and very often do stupid and/or reckless things.  This tragedy easily fits into that category.  In no way does it take away from the person that Bryan was, and would have been.  It may well have been the only time he ever did something this dangerous, and it ended in tragedy.

While I understand you are emotional in this time of loss, you must still be intelligent enough to see that by climbing to the top of a train, a place not meant for members of the public, Bryan was putting himself at greater risk of some type of injury.  The fact that the train receives its locomotive power as electricity delivered via aerial cable(s) through equipment attached to the roof of the train would increase the risk even more. 

Nothing George reported was in any way out of line.  Even the original title was closer to the facts.  If you get injured while doing everything you should and following all the rules, that might be an accident.  If you are breaking the rules and taking unnecessary risks it is no less tragic, but it is also no longer simply just an accident.  Surely you have heard the one about playing with fire?

My condolences to the family and friends of this fine young man, may he rest in peace.


Posted by Stuck at work from Mid Michigan on 06/08/12 at 01:39 AM ET


Sorry to stomp on all of the steller research that has been done but the actual police report says nothing about climbing on top of the train. The police were unable to declare what actually happened because he was alone when he was electrocuted and found later by his friend. All of this is speculation and no, none of you have a right to speculate. This was a kid. A great kid and you people should be ashamed if yourselves.

Posted by Inmemoryof from Canada on 06/13/12 at 12:06 AM ET


Oh and I’m with Mr Swain in requesting that you don’t mention Bryan’s name again. You don’t deserve to. Maybe you should focus on finding truths instead of slandering people. Bryan put 110% into everything he did, you could’ve learned something from him.

Posted by Inmemoryof from Canada on 06/13/12 at 12:23 AM ET


There is a difference between respect for the dead, and kid gloves. Malik has used complete ethical reserve in reporting this story, has shown considerable compassion and restraint, but more importantly has done his due diligence as a journalist to print all the relevant facts. This young man, I’m sure had a heart of gold and wouldn’t hurt a fly. But there is no justifiable reason a civilian not employed by the railroad or train company should find themselves on top of a train. This young man put himself in a very dangerous position for no acceptable reason, and tragically met his fate. It is not Maliks responsibility, and is in fact a huge ethical violation for him NOT to report the truth. This young mans death is very relevant to the story, as the cause of death is always relevant in someone so young. I am very sorry for the friends and family for this tragedy, but George Malik is a journalist and should not hide the facts that contribute to his story. I’m very sorry that the last decision this young man made was a mistake, and it led to his demise, but to accuse Malik of slander (by the way, slander refers to spoken words, written defamation would be libel) is out of line and completely false.

Malik, you should be commended, you have handled this incredibly difficult story with great aplomb in light of this unfortunate new information, and it saddens me that you have taken a beating for it. As a senior majoring in Journalism at Central Michigan University, I hope I can balance the journalistic process and personal sympathies as well as you have on this story.

Posted by Doug Sears Jr from Mt. Pleasant MI on 06/13/12 at 04:09 PM ET


Ok you are an idiot. These are not facts that you are working with. Again, there is no proof whatsoever that he was on top of the train!!!!! He was alone!! That is the main point that you missing!!’

Posted by Inlovingmemory on 06/13/12 at 06:31 PM ET


Ok, you are an idiot and completely missed the point. He was alone! There is no proof that he was on top of anything!

Posted by Inlovingmemory from Canada on 06/13/12 at 06:34 PM ET


Ok, you are an idiot and completely missed the point. He was alone! There is no proof that he was on top of anything!

Posted by Inlovingmemory from Canada on 06/13/12 at 06:34 PM ET


Ok, you are an idiot and completely missed the point. He was alone! There is no proof that he was on top of anything!

Posted by Inlovingmemory from Canada on 06/13/12 at 06:35 PM ET


Ok, you are an idiot and completely missed the point. He was alone! There is no proof that he was on top of anything!

Posted by Inlovingmemory from Canada on 06/13/12 at 06:36 PM ET


Ok, you are an idiot and completely missed the point. He was alone! There is no proof that he was on top of anything!

Posted by Inlovingmemory from Canada on 06/13/12 at 06:37 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

No one outside of his immediate family and friends have access to the police report. The rest of us can simply report what we are able to find via credible media sources and assume that these stories paint an incomplete picture.

This post was in no way meant to be any sort of character assassination or defaming of Bryan’s memory. I simply reported what I could find as accurately as possible. If you wish to call me names and tell me what a horrible person I am for “not knowing the truth,” that’s fine.

Suggesting the same regarding others’ comments is not acceptable.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/13/12 at 07:23 PM ET


I did not know Bryan, but new someone who new him.  I am disgusted by what people have said in this comment section.  Regardless of what happened, a young boy has died and it is incredibly sad.  There is no need to define what happened as “reckless” or anything of that sort.  It is a tragedy .  My heart goes out to his family and friends.

Posted by friendofafriend on 06/19/12 at 12:22 AM ET


This is my famiy ur talking about. He was amazing man and hockey player. How could u say the things u do. Honestly if u have nothing gd to say say nothing. Our family is going threw enough without reading ur nasty messages. He was amazing and if he knew what was about to happen he wouldnt have done it. He was smart. He is missed and were all hurting. Didnt ur mother teach u if u have nothing nice to say say nothing at all.

Posted by Michelle from Canada on 06/23/12 at 02:13 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

You people need to back off. George is repeating what was reported…if you have an issue, take it up with the MSM.

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 06/23/12 at 03:10 AM ET

cowboycoffee's avatar

wow, my heart goes out to the family. I can’t imagine.

with that said, this is a report based on other media sources. it’s not meant to attack anyone personally. this is how journalism works.

Posted by cowboycoffee from San Francisco, CA on 06/23/12 at 07:15 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.