The Stanley Cup weighs nearly 40 pounds, but Golden Knights Director of Scouting Operations Keith Veronesi ’14 had no problem hoisting it over his head as the team celebrated its NHL Championship in the moments after a 9-3 victory over the Florida Panthers to take the series on the Knights’ home ice in Las Vegas June 13.
“It feels like a feather,” Veronesi recalled of his brief encounter with the Cup. “You enjoy it for 10 or 15 seconds and pass it on to the next guy.”
A hockey player from childhood through his time at Connecticut College, Veronesi admitted winning a Cup as part of the front office instead of on skates does hit differently.
“Would I have liked to be playing with them and be the guy that scores the winning goal in Game 7? Of course,” he said. “This is certainly the next best thing. It’s just as equally gratifying.”
Much like his fleeting moment with the Cup, Veronesi didn’t have long to bask in the afterglow as director of scouting operations. Just a few days after the Knights had become the fastest expansion team to ever win it all, Veronesi had already geared up to travel to Nashville for the 2023 Draft.
“It all happened so fast,” he said. “We won the Stanley Cup on Tuesday night. We enjoyed it that night for sure. We, the staff, all went out with the players afterward so we could enjoy it with our families and close friends. Then, after, we had another party on the strip. The players are the ones that need to take the lead when it comes to celebration, right? They’re the guys that spent the last nine months playing.
“Wednesday morning, we all kind of got back together in the office just sort of … just reflected a little bit. When you’re going through the playoffs, you’re so high-strung. There’s so much pressure; there’s so much anxiety waiting for the next game. When you wake up after accomplishing what you were hoping to for a long, long time, you’re able to just sit back and reflect on it, which is pretty special.”
After a pause, he added, “Then yeah, Thursday and Friday, back in the office to get ready. We take off Monday for the Draft.”
For Veronesi, the hard-earned victory felt all the sweeter as he’s been with the team since it launched in 2017. After working in the American Hockey League (AHL) for the Utica Comets, then the Vancouver Canucks farm team, he decided to, fittingly, take a gamble and apply to the NHL’s newest team. He put in a resume, looking for anything, no matter how small, with operations. He was hired as an assistant in June of 2016, about 16 months before the Golden Knights would play their first game.
“When you graduate Conn, and you’re going into business, you know where you’re going. You’re going to New York, Boston, Chicago. But that was never for me. I loved hockey, you know? I wanted to be in the NHL. Then, less than five years after I graduate, I am. It’s really special. That’s the best way I can put it,” he said.
He’s since seen his loyalty to the team rewarded. “I wouldn’t say my role has changed so much as expanded. When I first came in, I was responsible for acquiring video for the scouts. And now my job is to work with the leaders of our scouting department.”
He experienced an especially exciting introduction to the NHL, as the Golden Knights became only the second expansion ever to reach the Stanley Cup in their very first season. Of course, the downside of that immediate success came in the less successful years that followed.
“When you get to the Stanley Cup your first season, you’re a little disappointed you didn’t finish. But you are able to step back and think, ‘Holy smoke, that was impressive.’ But then you spend the next years where you do well but not as well thinking, ‘We’re right there. How can we get over the hump?’” explained Veronesi.
“You know you have a good team, and you still don’t achieve it all. But then, it all starts to pay off. If you followed the playoffs, you saw what Jack Eichel did. Or Mark Stone. Or Petro [Alex Pietrangelo]. All these guys. You saw what they did, and it’s the culmination of years of work.”
As he celebrated the Cup victory, it struck Veronesi how much everyone had done to get him to that moment too. “I had my family there. My wife, my 15-month-old. It all just hits you.”