By Marina Rowbotham
Best friends and Princeton graduates Ryan Kuffner and Max Véronneau, both from the Glebe, are bound to see some action in the big leagues this season. The 23-year-olds made their NHL debuts last March after signing two-year entry-level contracts – Kuffner with the Detroit Red Wings and Véronneau with the Ottawa Senators.
After attending NHL training camp this fall, both players were sent down to the AHL but will likely be called back up at some point during the season.
Kuffner and Véronneau learned to skate when they were little more than toddlers. Kuffner’s father Joe built a tiny backyard rink, complete with red and blue lines and circles. Kuffner and his younger brother Brendan spent hours on the rink. Their mother Deb recalls one evening, when Ryan was eight, that he and his friends wouldn’t come in for dinner. So Joe and Deb brought out the table to the rink and the kids ate their spaghetti with steam coming off the plates.
Then Ryan and Max graduated to the outdoor rink at Mutchmor, practising and honing their skills there even when playing competitive hockey. “The Mutchmor rink was like a lifeline for those guys,” says Deb. “We lived two doors down and we could hear the puck slamming across the boards.” In high school, Véronneau also worked at the Glendale outdoor rink.
Ball hockey, too, was a big part of their lives. Kuffner and Véronneau played during the summers even while they were at Princeton. Several times, their team won Play On!, an annual street-hockey tournament at the Sensplex.
Véronneau played right wing with the Sens in 12 games last season, counting two goals and two assists. He scored his first on March 20 against Vancouver, with his proud parents watching from a box. Growing up, he particularly admired the play of Senators Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Bobby Ryan. “Being on the ice with them is pretty surreal,” he says As for his first game: “For sure it was a little nerve-racking, but once I got on the ice playing hockey, then it was just hockey at the end of the day. It was really an amazing experience!”
Kuffner played left wing for the Red Wings in 10 games, even getting some time on the power play. In September, he played in the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. The Detroit Red Wings won the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup after beating the Dallas Stars 6−5. Kuffner tied Joe Veleno for the tournament scoring lead with eight points (3 goals and 5 assists).
While he didn’t score in his first 10 NHL games, Kuffner did pot one in a pre-season game September 25 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, while his childhood idol Sidney Crosby was on the ice. Kuffner will start the season with the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while Véronneau will be playing for the Senators’ affiliate in Belleville.
Véronneau was courted by 25 NHL teams and chose to sign with the Senators after talking with general manager Pierre Dorion and the coaching staff. “They are a rebuilding team and they’re going young,” he says. “And I thought it was a very good opportunity for me. I just love to be part of the Sens organization and being a Sens fan, too, it’s awesome.”
After Kuffner’s first home game last March, he was interviewed on Fox Sports by former Red Wing Mickey Redmond. He praised Detroit as an “unbelievable” organization – “so professional and so welcoming” – and said it’s the place he wanted to be. He admires the team’s history and believes the support he gets will make him a better player.
In June, they both graduated from Princeton, Véronneau in mechanical and aerospace engineering, Kuffner in economics and finance. They were roommates at Princeton for three years. “The four years that I spent there were the best years of my life,” says Véronneau. “It was so much fun.”
The friends played on the same line with the Princeton Tigers. Theirs were the highest scoring line for four years in Division 1 hockey and led the Tigers to an Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) title in 2018.
Véronneau was a two-time Hobey Baker nominee as top player in U.S. college hockey, a Senior Class Award top-10 finalist, top scholar from Princeton on the ECAC Hockey All-Academic team and was named to the Academic All-Ivy League team. Kuffner was also a Hobey Baker nominee and a four-time ECAC Hockey All-Academic team selection. Kuffner is known for his killer shot. He holds the Princeton career record for goals scored (75). Véronneau is noted for his skating skills and hockey IQ. He holds the Princeton record for most points (55) and assists (38) in a season (2017−18).
With school and hockey season in full swing, Véronneau has a message for kids. “Just try to have fun and to do well,” he says. “Try to do the best that you can, especially in school, because doing well in school gives you more options in life. Like for me, I was able to go to Princeton, which is pretty amazing, to play hockey.” And he adds: “Most importantly, have fun, just enjoy it, because you’ll be better if you have fun with it.”
Kuffner’s great-uncle, Edwin Gorman, played for the Ottawa Senators and won the Stanley Cup in 1927, the last time an Ottawa team won the trophy.
Véronneau’s favourite player growing up was Marian Hossa when he played for the Sens. Kuffner’s favourite players were Sidney Crosby and Daniel Alfredsson.
Marina Rowbotham works as a freelance editor and writer. She is a registered nurse with an MA in journalism.