Steelheads rookie driven by fallen friend's memory

Rookie William Rapuzzi’s college teammate, roommate died this summer.

clangrill@idahostatesman.comNovember 6, 2013 

Steelheads forward William Rapuzzi said he is determined to think about his college teammate, Scott Winkler, every day for the rest of his life. The tattoo on his right bicep, which says, “Never Forgotten … Winkler 25,” will help him keep that promise to himself. “It was something I wanted to do,” Rapuzzi said. “I just want to make sure he’s never forgotten, and that’s why my tattoo says that.” It’s Rapuzzi’s only tattoo.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

  • Steelheads come up empty against Aces

    The Idaho Steelheads and Alaska Aces played 53 minutes of scoreless hockey Wednesday night at CenturyLink Arena.

    That turned out to be the good news for Idaho.

    Three second-period goals in a span of a less than 7 minutes proved to be the difference in a 3-0 Alaska win.

    Goalie Pat Nagle took the loss after stopping 32-of-35 shots.

    The Aces (8-1) entered the game with a gaudy record, but had not yet played a team with a winning record.

    If there were any doubts whether they will be a force in the ECHL’s Western Conference, they were answered.

    Alaska has earned five shutouts through nine games and outscored opponents 37-9.

    Idaho was outshot 35-21 and had very few scoring chances after going 0-for-4 on the power play.

    The only consolation for the Steelheads: They get two more chances on their home ice against the Aces on Friday and Saturday.

— William Rapuzzi has heard all the commonly used phrases.

“Everyone always says you can’t take life for granted,” the first-year Steelheads forward said. “No regrets, all that stuff. I know I just kind of used to blow that stuff off.”

No more.

Rapuzzi has had a different perspective since his college roommate and teammate, Scott Winkler, died June 12 in Norway at the age of 23.

“I had talked to him the previous night (from Alaska),” Rapuzzi said. “There was a rumor going around. A guy on our team called me and asked, ‘Did you hear what happened?’ … I said it must have been a relative. There’s no way. … I called over there, and his mom answered.”

The rumor turned out to be reality.

The cause of Winkler’s death is still unknown.

“They take a while over there with their autopsies,” Rapuzzi said. “It’s kind of typical when you don’t really know to assume something with the heart or the brain. … They’re not quite sure.”

What Rapuzzi is sure of is that he lost a true friend.

“We played against each other when we were 15 or 16,” said Rapuzzi, now 23. “So we played against each other in juniors, then in college we lived together.”

The two played four years, side-by-side, at Colorado College.

“He was really quiet when I first got to know him, but he really branched out the last few years,” Rapuzzi said. “He was friends with everyone, whether you were a young guy or an older guy. He just looked out for everyone. He was always happy. People always say that, but he really was one of those guys who never got too mad about anything.”

Rapuzzi was the team captain during their senior year, and Winkler, a third-round selection in 2008 by the Dallas Stars, looked forward to beginning his pro career.

As it turned out, Idaho coach Brad Ralph had been recruiting the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Rapuzzi for a few months, and after the rookie signed with Idaho in September he got a chance to participate in an AHL camp with the Texas Stars, Idaho’s affiliate.

“It was weird ending up in Texas’ camp, because that’s where he would have been,” Rapuzzi said. “Hockey’s a small world, and it just happened to play out that way.”

Rapuzzi returned to Idaho after attending the Stars’ camp. He came into Wednesday night’s game against Alaska with eight points (one goal, seven assists) through six games. Anthony Nigro (nine) was the only Steelhead with more points.

“We’re fortunate to have him,” Ralph said. “He’s been one of our best players here at the start of the season.”

Rapuzzi said, in some ways, hockey has been therapeutic for him.

“Hockey’s great for me right now,” he said. “When you’re at the rink, there’s nothing else on your mind.”

It didn’t take long for Rapuzzi to make an impression on captain Justin Mercier.

“When he’s on the ice, good things happen,” Mercier said. “I think his friend would be proud of him, the way he’s gone out there and played hard for him.”

Said Ralph: “He’s got a little bit of everything. He’s a good skater, he’s got good hands, he’s got a good shot. But I don’t know that any one thing stands out other than his work ethic. His work ethic and his determination are by far his best qualities as a hockey player.”

You could say Rapuzzi is driven by the memories of his fallen friend.

“When you lose someone like that, it’s tough,” he said. “You really can’t take anything for granted.”

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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