Ending PU Hockey Career with Goal Scoring Marks, Kuffner Looking to Stick with Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT TIGER: Ryan Kuffner heads up the ice last winter for the Detroit Red Wings. Former Princeton University standout Kuffner ’19 played in 10 games for the Red Wings after wrapping up a Tiger career that saw him set the program record for career goals with 75. Kuffner will be starting training camp with the Red Wings on September 13, looking to earn a spot with the club. (Photo provided courtesy of Detroit Red Wings)
By Bill Alden
Ryan Kuffner accomplished a lot individually during his career with the Princeton University men’s hockey team.
The 6’1, 195-pound forward ended his Princeton career this past March with program records in career goals (75), goals in a season (29 in 2017-18), and games played (132). He is second in career points with 152 and was a two-time All-American.
But looking back on his career, Kuffner credits his teammates with making those individual achievements possible
“It is more of a testament to who I was able to play with over the last four years,” said Kuffner, a native of Ottawa, Ontario.
“It is really incredible looking back on it, I was so lucky that we had such a great group of guys, especially our senior class. I got to play with Max [Veronneau], Alex [Riche], Spencer [Kryczka], and Josh [Teves]. Being the recipient of some of the awards is very special; I also think it can be attributed to the entire class.”
Kuffner had an incredible experience as he signed with the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League days after Princeton fell 6-5 in triple overtime to Brown on March 9 to get eliminated in an ECAC Hockey first round playoff series.
“It was pretty wild, I never really thought about it until after the season was done,” said Kuffner, who inked a two-year entry level contract with the Red Wings on March 12.
“I was able to talk to my advisor at the time. He suggested a few teams that I should call to see what the situations are and what opportunities I have, not just for that year but for at least the next two years, hoping to build a future in a city for a while. That was really important. We got to talk to a lot of great organizations and to be able to sign with Detroit to join a great organization was a dream come true.”
Joining the Red Wings that week, Kuffner tried to keep from getting overwhelmed by the transition to the pros.
“I was nervous and excited, it is a big step, just like that step to play juniors and then play college,” said Kuffner, who was one of three classmates to sign with NHL as Veronneau joined the Ottawa Senators and Teves headed to the Vancouver Canucks.
“I have always been the nervous type when it came to new experiences. I was trying to take it all in and know a few years down the road, I would look back and wonder why I was ever nervous. I tried to stay grounded. It was very easy to be a bit star struck by it, even by some of the guys on my team.”
In Kuffner’s view, he was better prepared to make that jump in the wake of his Princeton experience.
“It helped me be independent, just the way that I was not expecting anything from anybody else,” said Kuffner.
“I knew that I had two jobs to do – one was to get my schoolwork done, and the other one was hockey and to do everything I could to be the best hockey player I could be for the next game or the next season, whatever it may be. With my priorities being school and hockey some things I had to learn the hard way, especially time management. There is so much to learn from living on your own and being that busy all of the time. I also think that we have come a long way, especially all of the guys in our class. We grew those four years.”
Kuffner started his new job as he made his NHL debut on March 16 against the New York Islanders in a 2-1 win for the Red Wings.
“It was wild, I was really lucky I got to have my family, my girlfriend, and a few friends down,” said Kuffner.
“I just wanted to have fun with it. I was nervous obviously. It is a night I will never forget. The difference between juniors and college and the difference between juniors and minor hockey is very similar. Everybody is so much bigger, faster, and better.”
Taking some lumps as he battled that higher level of competition, Kuffner was held scoreless in 10 appearances for the Red Wings.
“A few things I thought I would have an advantage after playing in college four years and developing and all of a sudden, I didn’t have that advantage being around the net,” said Kuffner.
“I realized quickly that I needed to do so much more to be able to work hard in front of the net, stay on my feet, and just get around the puck.”
Drawing from that experience, Kuffner has gained a better feel for where he needs to be on the ice.
“Everything is so structured; if you don’t know exactly where you have to be at all points, it is tough to work from that into positions where you know you are going to have success,” said Kuffner.
“I think the biggest progression I had over the 10 games was learning where I had to be, especially when you didn’t have the puck. You start getting more opportunities when you do have the puck because you are in the right places and everybody is working as a unit.”
Staying in Detroit this summer, Kuffner focused on sharpening the fine points of his game.
“The biggest part this summer was working on my skating, having a bit more power out of uncomfortable positions around the net or in the corner, stuff that you don’t really focus on during the season because you know have a job to do,” said Kuffner.
“When I get on one-on-one time with skills coaches and skating coaches, you get to really focus on that kind of stuff, working on my shot and my passing. Getting into the gym everyday is gigantic, but it is that skating and quickness around the puck that is really going to make the difference.”
Taking part in the Red Wings Development Camp in late June, Kuffner saw that work pay dividends.
“I think even the first few months of my training really helped and having gone through the month that I did when our season was over at Princeton, I was able to learn a lot and figure out what I needed to work on, which was gigantic for my development,” said Kuffner.
“I think for me personally, it showed what kind of progress I was making, just feeling a bit more comfortable on my skates. I felt a lot stronger so I think that was a stepping stone for what is ahead in the future.”
With training camp starting on September 13, Kuffner is keeping his nose to the grindstone.
“It is just work as hard as I can; every year at school and in juniors, you go into training camp and you are fighting for a spot on the team,” said Kuffner.
“That is exciting, obviously I am going to be nervous but I know that I put a ton of time into working on everything I can in the summer. I pretty much dedicated all of my time to pushing myself to being the best player I can be.”
Having put in that effort, Kuffner will be concentrating on getting in the flow and just playing his game as he looks to make the Red Wings.
“I have to be comfortable in whatever setting I am, that is the biggest thing,” said Kuffner.
“When I am having fun, I can get very comfortable with the systems and with my play. I want to try to have a good time with it and just work as hard as possible. I think that is the focus; it is easy to get away from that if I am overthinking.”