Each time Scott Winkler walked into the downtown Chipotle Mexican Grill, the work staff greeted him as a comrade.

He was a hockey player at Colorado College. He grew up in Norway. He didn't have much in common with those who prepared his simple burritos, which always consisted of meat, rice and cheese. No sauce. No veggies. No frills.

No frills defined him. Winkler, or "Winks" to his friends, took a calm, kind, uncomplicated walk through his brief life. He spent four seasons at CC as a disciplined, diligent forward who encouraged teammates while almost never complaining.

"He had such a delightful attitude," said William Rapuzzi, a Colorado College teammate who enjoyed hundreds of trips to Chipotle with Winkler. "He was always in a good mood."

Rapuzzi laughed, thinking how Winkler, one of his closest friends, could inspire smiles even on a journey to a fast-food destination.

Soon, though, the laughter fades as the realization sinks in.

Winks is gone.

He died June 12 at his family's home in Asker, Norway. He was 23. Friends and family await the full autopsy report.

A few days after his friend's death, Rapuzzi traveled to Norway for the funeral and burial. Rapuzzi and Winkler had shared so many burritos, so many laughs, so many victories.

On a gloomy day far from the CC campus, a day that will haunt him the rest of his days, Rapuzzi watched his friend and teammate lowered into the earth.

"I mean, it's so hard," Rapuzzi says. "There are days when I still don't really believe it."

He's not alone.

At 11:30 a.m. June 12, Rapuzzi called Colorado College coach Scott Owens with the news. "Winks passed away," he told Owens. He remembers no other details from the phone call.

"I was in complete shock," Rapuzzi said.

The shock quickly spread. In the next few hours, CC players and fans struggled to comprehend the news. I received a call from a longtime Tigers fan hoping the death report was inaccurate. Scott Winkler could not possibly be gone, the caller said between sobs.

"Nobody could believe it," Owens said this week. "I couldn't believe it."

This struggle to believe makes sense. Winkler was careful about what he ate. He worked out relentlessly. He seemed indestructible with his 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame.

Owens thinks constantly about Winkler, gone far too soon. Owens will be sitting at home pondering the challenges of next season when thoughts of Winkler chase all other thoughts from his mind.

"It puts it all in perspective," Owens said. "It puts the winning and losing of hockey in perspective. It puts a lot of things in perspective."

The memories often bring smiles. Owens remembers a goal Winkler scored against Denver at World Arena on Dec. 3, 2011.

Winkler, using his efficient style, ripped a shot past DU goaltender Juho Olkinuora. Never one to make much of a fuss, he raised his right hand in a quick salute to teammates and jubilant CC fans.

Owens constantly remembers this goal. He might be sitting in his third-floor office or negotiating through traffic on Interstate 25. He escapes by retreating to this moment, to this image. He sees Winkler just after his crucial goal against CC's most-despised rival. Winkler wears an immense smile as he hugs his teammates. He's so alive, so full of potential.

"Somebody who had the whole world in front of him," Owens said, his usually clear voice growing cloudy with emotion. "It's still hard to grasp."

He stared at the floor, shook his head. He's tried, as many have, to understand the departure of a young man who inspired happiness at every destination, even a burrito shop on Tejon Street.

"Still hard to grasp," Owens said, the words coming ever so slowly.

"That's he's gone."


Twitter: @davidramz