August 16, 2017

After Breakout Season for Princeton Men’s Hockey, Kuffner Skated for Winnipeg in Pursuit of NHL Dream

OFF THE KUFF: Princeton University men’s hockey player Ryan Kuffner glides up the ice in action for the Princeton University men’s hockey team. After a big sophomore season this past winter for the Tigers, Kuffner honed his skills this summer by skating for the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets at its Development Camp. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ryan Kuffner isn’t about to take a day off when it comes to pursuing his goals in hockey.

“I work hard every day in the offseason and then in practice as well to try to give myself the best chance to play at the next level when I get the chance,” said Kuffner, a rising junior forward on the Princeton University men’s hockey team. 

“I really feel that I can excel at that next level and hopefully make it to the National Hockey League. That is the dream for sure.”

This summer, Kuffner took a step towards that goal as he skated in the 2017 Development Camp held by the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.

“I was lucky, they came to a few games and I talked to one of their NCAA scouts,” recalled Kuffner, who was in Winnipeg from June 26-30.

“He liked the way I played and just wanted to have me out for the week. It was an awesome opportunity, I definitely learned a lot. It is just cool to see other guys who are maybe at a higher level  than you are and trying to build your game off of what you see from them.”

Having recently graduated Tiger star goalie Colton Phinney on hand at the camp helped enhance the experience for Kuffner.

“It was my first camp and I didn’t really know what to expect and he’s been through it a couple of times,” said the 6’1, 195-pound Kuffner, a native of Ottawa, Ontario.

“I was able to ask him a lot of questions, especially at the start so I could try to prepare a little bit for what was to come. It was awesome having him and a few of the other NCAA guys that I have played with in past years.”

Kuffner got to focus on developing his offensive skills at the camp. “A big part of my game is trying to work on the down low play and trying to create more from behind the net or one on one against the defense,” noted Kuffner.

“At the Winnipeg camp, a lot of it is trying to show the guys the pro game, how big it is from the corner out. The puck can be in the corner a lot and you are going to have to win the race and be able to get a step on the defense and then make the next play.”

Last winter, Kuffner made a lot of plays for the Tigers, leading the team in scoring with 36 points in 34 games, scoring a team-high 19 goals and adding 17 assists on the way to earning Third-Team All-Ivy League honors.

“When you are making the adjustment to the college game, you want to look around and see what other guys are doing and try to take the best parts of other people’s games,” said Kuffner, who had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) as a freshman.

“You see things in practice, like the work ethic, the skating, the shooting, just the essential parts and you try to apply them to your game. It is also the play of the guys around you, especially in hockey, that matters the most. Who I have been playing with has always been able to push me; I owe a ton of it to those guys.”

Playing on the same line with longtime friend and fellow Ottawa native Max Veronneau helped push Kuffner to his big season.

“I have been lucky, especially to play with Max Veronneau for the last four years,” said Kuffner, noting that the pair played together with the Gloucester Rangers of the Central Canadian Hockey League for two seasons before coming to Princeton.

“We work together at summer camps and stuff. We also lived with each other back at school last year. We push each other, we are always picking each other’s brains on just different little stuff that we can improve each game and even during the games. Communication is such a big part that you want to know where your line mates are at all times. Being able to play with him the last two years was awesome.”

Since finishing up with the development camps, Kuffner, true to form, is keeping a busy schedule as he prepares for his junior season at Princeton.

“I work out most mornings with Max,” said Kuffner. “Then we have a goalie camp. My ex-teacher teaches the goalies and we shoot at them. It is an awesome job, I get to work on my shot for a few hours and do some skating as well. I do that for the mornings right after the workout and then we have the afternoons off so I do a bike session or go for a run. Then we play hockey at night right after golf.”

In Kuffner’s view, the Tigers are poised for a big run this winter as they look to improve on going 15-16-3 in 2016-17 and advancing to the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.

“I think this year we can definitely get to the top of the ECAC if we play well as a team and play consistently, that is the biggest thing,” maintained Kuffner.

“Obviously there might be a couple that don’t go our way because that is hockey. If we can play at the high level every night, then we will give ourselves more chances to win and won’t fall behind the 8-ball early on games like we have done in the past.”