International Ice Hockey Federation

Swiss via Wisconsin

Swiss via Wisconsin

Rufenacht’s journey back home

Published 18.05.2017 10:54 GMT+2 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Swiss via Wisconsin
Swiss forward Thomas Rufenacht celebrates a goal against Belarus with his teammates. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Swiss forward Thomas Rufenacht is playing in his second World Championship at age 32. His is a unique story among participants this year.

Rufenacht was born in Switzerland, but when he was six months old his parents moved to the United States. “I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin,” he explained, “and lived there for 18 years.”

His is a not too common story of a player whose national team and childhood are different. His parents, both Swiss, raised him as a Swiss and spoke German to him, which is why although he grew up American, one might say, he is still very much Swiss.

Swiss or American, though, Rufenacht loved hockey and happened to know people in the hockey world, namely Brady Murray (son of Canadian coach Andy) and Ryan Suter, the player. Those friendships helped guide his hockey ambitions.

“I went to Shattuck for a year," Rufenacht continued. “My brothers went there and Brady went there as well.”

As it turned out, Rufenacht wasn’t comfortable there, so he made a switch after a year, moving over to Culver Military Academy.

“Culver was a rival school. I just saw more opportunity there to play high-level hockey,” he explained. “I was coming off a couple of injuries. I knew Ryan Suter growing up and he went there, as well as his stepbrother. Hockey was always the number-one thing for me. I just kept battling to improve and get opportunities to play at the highest level.”

Ironically, Switzerland or Europe was never on his mind at this point in his life. 

“I applied to a lot of USHL teams, saw some openings. My brother was a year older than me, a goalie, and he was playing Junior B in Canada. Then, we both had a chance to come to Switzerland. At that time, I had no idea about Swiss hockey, the league, that you could make a good living off it. I thought it would be a good experience and that I might go back to the US, but I ended up staying.”

Indeed, Rufenacht has now been in the league many years. He started off as a truculent American but has refined his game dramatically over the years.

“I used to provoke guys,” he explained, “play a little ratty, but that’s not as known in Europe and it took a while for the refs to get used to me and me to get used to them, but as time went on I’ve learned to walk that fine line a little better.”

He played at the 2014 Worlds for Switzerland, a tough event because the team had played for the gold medal the previous year and in ’14 it didn’t qualify for the quarter-finals.

“In 2014, we had a little bad puck luck, especially against the Americans,” he recalled. “We had a couple of offside calls go against us. We played well but missed the playoffs by one point. I think this year, we have some experienced guys who know that every point counts. Even that one point in overtime is a really huge deal. We’ve battled here to get every point.”

From 166 penalty minutes in 2011 he has gone down to 71 this season. More importantly: in the recent playoffs he had 18 points (7+11) in 16 games, as many as he used to have during a whole season.

Rufenacht was invited to play again this year for several reasons, starting with the fact he and SC Bern won their second straight league championship.

“The playoffs went really well for me,” he noted. “I was able to play with [Mark] Arcobello, and we were able to win the championship again, so I was definitely hoping to be invited, but you never know what a coach wants or what role you’ll be asked to play. And then you never know what NHL guys will be coming over.”

The one blemish so far in an otherwise impressive tournament here in Paris is personal—he has yet to score. “I feel a little snakebitten, but as long as the chances are there, I think one will go in.”

And now the Swiss prepare for a quarter-finals showdown with the Swedes, and as the experienced Rufenacht knows, a win is there for the taking.

“Once you get to the elimination stage any team can win. You have to score goals at the right time, get a hot power play, doing the little things right to create a lucky bounce or get the goal at the right time.

And maybe, just maybe, the snakebitten Swiss forward who grew up a Wisconsinite can be the one to score that vital goal against Tre Kronor.


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