Kuffner Displays His Increased Confidence, Helping PU Men’s Hockey Top Bemidji State
KUFF LINK: Princeton University men’s hockey player Ryan Kuffner races up ice in a 2016-17 game. Last Saturday, junior forward Kuffner tallied a goal and an assist to help Princeton defeat Bemidji State 4-1 and improve to 4-4-1 overall. In upcoming action, the Tigers host Dartmouth on December 1 and Harvard on December 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Even though the Princeton University men’s hockey team fell behind Bemidji State 1-0 after just 17 seconds last Friday evening, Ryan Kuffner and his teammates weren’t concerned.
“We have a lot of guys coming back who can skate and move the puck,” said junior forward Kuffner, a 6’1, 195-pound native of Ottawa, Ontario.
“Being together as four lines who are confident, we are ready to play from puck drop every night so if you let in one goal, that is not really going to bother you whatsoever.”
Showing his confidence, Kuffner helped spark a two-goal outburst in a span of 1:39 late in the second period, tallying the first goal and assisting on the second as the Tigers went up 2-1 and never looked back on the way to a 4-1 win over the Beavers.
In reflecting on his goal, Kuffner acknowledged that he got a lucky bounce.
“I just got the puck from [Josh] Teves, it was just a broken down play and a few guys were by the net so I figured I would just send one and hopefully Dave [Hallisey] would tip it,” said Kuffner. “It just made its way past the goalie.”
On his assist, Kuffner sent the puck to linemate Alex Riche, who converted the pass into his first goal of the season.
“They bring three or four guys right down so we knew that we had to get one or two guys beat and that is what Riche did there for his goal,” said Kuffner. “He should have a lot more. He is a great player and we are lucky to play with him.”
With the Tigers off to a 4-4-1 start, Kuffner believes that the team is playing better all over the ice.
“We are working as a five-man unit a bit more than last year,” said Kuffner. “That is huge in this type of game, when everybody is fast and they will hit.”
Having worked on the same line with classmates Max Veronneau and Riche since freshman year, Kuffner senses that the trio is totally in synch.
“Even in games when the production isn’t there necessarily, we just try to work together,” said Kuffner, who now has 10 points this season on five goals and five assists with Veronneau having tallied a team-high 11 on five goals and six assists.
“I think the biggest thing is staying close to each other. When we get separated that makes the passes a bit tougher in the zone. We get less shots and we get less bodies to the net. It is just playing together. Max and Alex are just great players and it makes it a lot easier.”
Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty is happy with how his players are working together.
“I just liked how we played, but you never know,” said Fogarty. “In the Brown game (a 3-0 loss on November 18), we played well and you think that you should score and we didn’t.”
Fogarty sensed a goal was coming for the Tigers as they carried play after the early tally by the Beavers.
“We had a lot of opportunities, we had 53 after two so I knew we were getting pucks toward the net and we hit on 28 shots,” said Fogarty. “It was better offensive tendencies for us tonight.”
Kuffner has established himself as one of Princeton’s better offensive players.
“Ryan has been our leading scorer the last two years, he is a great player,” said Fogarty.
“He is going to have a chance to play professional hockey; teams are on him right now because he does things over and over again in the right way. Every time you put him over the boards, you know exactly what you are going to get and it is good, as a coach, to know that.”
The Tigers were looking to do better on the defensive end on Friday after falling 5-3 to Bemidji two days earlier in the first contest of the two-game set.
“Our defense was very porous on Wednesday; we kept the shots at a very manageable number tonight, it was better for our defense,” said Fogarty, whose team outshot the Beavers 40-27 on Friday.
“We wanted to make sure that we have control. They came with a little more heat because they were down and we just made sure that we could go back and forth more efficiently and with confidence. It is not just flinging it around. It is getting to spaces and being available for the movement of the puck.”
Fogarty believes his team is moving in the right direction. “You look at where we were last year exactly at this time and we are ahead of the game,” said Fogarty, whose team hosts Dartmouth on December 1 and Harvard on December 2.
“We are at .500 and we were trying to chase .500 last year. We are playing as a team. We are beyond where we were, even at the end of last year. It is comforting to know that guys are putting meat on the bones of the systems and our philosophies.”
In Kuffner’s view, getting the chance to play the Beavers in back-to-back games was a valuable experience.
“They are a bigger and faster team than what we see all the time; and to play somebody twice definitely helps us,” said Kuffner.
“We get to see how we adjust. We are pretty familiar with other teams but to play out of conference, it is like a little playoff series. Even if we did come up short a bit in the first game, the second game is the biggest one, just like the playoffs. You have to win that second game, no matter what, so that is huge for us.”