Besides the numerous victories he guided the Greenwich High boys hockey team to during his four seasons at the helm, beloved coach Chris Rurak was known for his dedication, generosity, commitment, and appreciation toward the hockey community.
Rurak died on Friday at the age of 47. He resided in Greenwich with his wife Jennifer and sons Christopher and Matthew.
The Rurak family released a statement on Sunday afternoon: “Chris’ family is thankful for all of the loving messages and tributes. Due to health concerns, we will hold a celebration of his life at a later date when we can all come together safely. We feel blessed to be living in a community that cares so deeply about our beloved coach, husband, father, son, brother, uncle, and friend.”
A member of the Greenwich Athletic Foundation, Rurak also coached youth hockey at the Greenwich Skating Club.
He arrived at Greenwich High in 2016 and led the Cardinals to the FCIAC Tournament finals twice and to an appearance in the CIAC Division I final in 2018.
A native of Edmonton, Rurak posted a career record of 51-30-3, including 13-7-1 during the 2019-2020 season.
Rurak, who captained the ice hockey team at SUNY Cortland, focused on making the high school hockey experience memorable for the members of his Cardinals team.
“These last three years in the GHS hockey program have been the greatest years of my life,” said Michael Connerty, a 2020 Greenwich graduate, who served as one of the captains of the Cardinals’ captains last season. “Coach was a man who cared about the game, and cared about seeing his players grow both as players and as young men. I will always remember Coach for not only his hockey knowledge, but his constant reiterating of the importance of brotherhood, family, and being part of something bigger than yourself. He always reminded us that we, as a team, are bonded for life.”
Ryan Columbo, who also captained Greenwich’s 2019-2020 hockey squad, recalled how Rurak gave him the opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve his overall play.
“A few weeks ago, I gave a speech at our socially distanced hockey banquet,” Columbo said. “I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of Mr. Rurak. I stated that coach Rurak did not expect greatness, but he expected each of us to get better every day. And that’s exactly what happened with me and I soon realized that’s what was happening to every player around me. He was all about developing players mentally and physically.”
A well-known coach in the state, Rurak had a way of inspiring his players. Columbo remembers being given a second chance by Rurak after he struggled during a state tournament game in 2018.
“During the game, I made many mistakes and gave the puck away multiple times in our zone,” Columbo recalled. “So like any coach would do, he sat me for the rest of the game. I wasn’t mad at coach for benching me. I was mad at myself for letting my team down. Luckily, we won that game.”
Columbo thought he wasn’t going to play much after that, but Rurak talked to him and asked Columbo what he thought he did wrong.
“I told him a play-by-play of what I had done and what I would do to improve,” Columbo said. “He laughed with me and said, ‘Good, now learn from that.’ I went on to play in every playoff game all the way to the state finals at the Whale. Coach gave me a second chance to prove myself. Not all coaches are willing to do that.”
Ben Nash, a 2020 GHS graduate who served as one of the captains this past season, appreciated the effort Rurak made in elevating the sport at Greenwich High.
“Coach Rurak dedicated most of his life to growing the game of hockey all over the world,” Nash said. “He played on five different continents and later simultaneously coached his own kids and the GHS team. Coach will be remembered by his unending effort to bring the experience of college hockey to high school. He was there when we needed everything and anything, from a giant cardinal painted on the ice, to a spare roll of tape or a helmet screw, or even a personal skate sharpening.”
When it came to hockey, his players enjoyment was paramount for Rurak.
“Our incredible resources were an extension of how much he cared for his players and how badly he wanted to make his team a perfect experience for them,” Nash said. “He was a man who cared for all, thanking the rink staff on every morning of a game with fresh donuts in hand when he would arrive at the rink.
“His success and love for hockey will be remembered by the thousands that played with him, for him, or were witnesses to the magic that he created on and off the ice.”
Prior to competing at the collegiate level, Rurak played Junior A hockey for the Ottawa-based Massena Americans in the CJHL and the Buffalo-based Niagara Scenics in the NAJHL. During his undergraduate years in college, he represented Australia in the IIHF World Championships and played hockey in South Korea, Lithuania, South Africa, Andorra, Barcelona, Spain, Bendigo, Australia, and Cardiff Wales.
Rurak proceeded to earn an MBA from Medaille College in Buffalo, then started his own logistics management firm, Breakaway Transport, LLC. He also spent at least eight years coaching at the Greenwich Skating Club.
“He was very passionate about hockey and he coached at all levels of the program,” Greenwich Skating Club General Manager Brent Brower said. “We played against each other in a junior hockey league, so we would sit around talking about old hockey stories. It was a nice bond.”
Rurak was instrumental in organizing the Winter Classic, which saw the Greenwich boys and girls team play against outdoors against their foes at Greenwich Skating Club.
“He came to me right away and said he wanted to start a traditional Winter Classic and we worked out all the details,” Brower said. “Everything is already on the calendar for this year’s Winter Classic. He was thinking about it as soon as he could.”
Connerty is grateful for his experiences at the Winter Classic.
“It’s safe to say that without him, we would have no Winter Classic,” Connerty said. “I would not have the unforgettable memories of playing rival Darien in the rink, where I learned how to skate, under the lights, with the support of an entire community behind me, and my teammates beside me. The Winter Classic games I played in will forever be some of the greatest memories of my childhood that I will cherish forever, and I have Coach Rurak to thank for that.”
Jamie Brower, Brent Bower’s wife, who coaches hockey at Greenwich Skating Club, enjoyed the hockey conversations she had with Rurak.
“Aside from being a great friend, he was a great coaching colleague to sit around with and bounce ideas off of,” Jamie Brower said. “We had great conversations about team culture, he really cared about his players.”
Craig Wingrove coached with Rurak for several years at Greenwich Skating Club.
“Everyone talks about the impact he made on the ice, for me, it wasn’t just about his accomplishments on the ice but what he did off the ice,” Wingrove said. “He was an amazing father, an incredible friend, and he had a personality that was larger than life. We always laughed that we were a couple of small town Canadian boys living larger than life here in Greenwich. He was involved with the Greenwich Athletic Foundation, he created the Winter Classic, he created the highly successful JV league, and he always had the girls program in mind.”
Wingrove’s daughter Emma, a 2020 GHS graduate played on the school’s girls hockey team and also saw the impact Rurak had on the program.
“He strived to make my hockey experience at GHS the best,” Wingrove said. “He offered feedback when I needed help. He always looked out for me and cheered me on. Coach Rurak was not only an amazing coach, but also a close family friend. Coach knew how to make everything fun and having him around was always the best. His passion for hockey was infectious. Hockey in this town will not be the same without coach, but I know his legacy will live forever.”
Greenwich High School Headmaster Ralph Mayo issued an email to the school’s community.
“Coach Rurak made a lasting impact upon the sport of hockey, and his genuine love for the game and his support of his players has been felt throughout our town,” Mayo said. “Our community is deeply saddened by this loss and our thoughts and prayers will be with coach Rurak and his family.”
The Chris Rurak Scholarship Fund has been started. To make a donation to the scholarship fund, visit https://chrisrurak.com The Rurak family has partnered with the Greenwich Athletic Foundation and has established a scholarship fund in honor of coach Rurak.