Kuhlman signs with NHL
It's safe to say that Esko's Karson Kuhlman has had a big week.
"To say the least," he said.
On Saturday, April 7, Kuhlman and the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs wrapped up the program's second national championship in men's hockey with a 2-1 win over Notre Dame in St. Paul, with Kuhlman scoring the team's first goal.
On Tuesday, April 10, Kuhlman signed a two-year, $1.5 million contract with the NHL's Boston Bruins.
So yes, he's had a big week.
"It hasn't sunk in yet. I've been out of college hockey for one day," Kuhlman said. "But from what some of the (national champion) 2011 guys said, it really won't sink in for a couple of years yet."
Ever the team player, UMD's second national championship captain was quick to credit his teammates.
"We worked so hard," he said. "We had a ton of ups and downs, but through it all, we knew what we had. We knew if we got in (the NCAA tournament), we could win."
The talk of the Bulldogs being a team of destiny resonates with Kuhlman — to a point.
"I think it's partially accurate," he said. "We believed in ourselves and worked hard every practice."
In other words, they earned what they got.
And to top it off, Kuhlman also had the thrill of scoring in a national championship game.
"That was an unbelievable feeling, to score," he said. "No one can take that away. I just wanted to do the things I had done my whole career, and on that play it wound up in the back of the net.
"I was just happy to get an early lead," he added. "I was really excited to see the energy in the building (after scoring)."
And now, Kuhlman joins a select group. Brett Hull isn't in it. Bill Watson isn't in it. Chris Marinucci, Junior Lessard and even Derek Plante isn't in it. It's the group of national champions.
"Those are unbelievable players," Kuhlman said. "It just goes to show how hard college hockey is. Our team needed contributions from everyone."
And now, with UMD in the rearview mirror, it's off to Boston.
"It (Boston's interest) kind of just happened," Kuhlman said. "They let you focus on winning with your group and your team and couldn't be more gracious about it. They are a first-class organization and I love the way they view things. It's all about success in all facets of hockey, on and off the ice."
But before you get the idea that Kuhlman is by himself in Boston, he's not. Former Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, New Jersey Devils, Dallas Stars and U.S. Olympic captain Jamie Langenbrunner works for the Bruins in player development — and he had his eye on Kuhlman.
"I went to their development camp this summer, and he had a big part in that," Kuhlman said. "We definitely connected a few times. I'm happy that it all worked out."
And now that hockey has gone from a sport to a job for Kuhlman, his approach to the game has to change a bit as well.
"I know what's at stake," he said. "I couldn't be more happy with the opportunity."
Kuhlman will train with a group of pro players and former Bulldogs that comes to Duluth each summer for dryland training.
"I really need to work on the game this summer," he said. "After that, it's up to the Bruins. I want to go to camp and show them what I have."
Kuhlman knows that he owes quite a bit to his local friends and family.
"So many people to thank," he said. "Everyone at Esko and Cloquet that helped me through, coach (Dave) Esse and coach (Kyle) Young, everyone in the youth programs, people that work the rink. It was a special place to grow up.
But will Kuhlman join Langenbrunner and Plante, Cloquet's two Stanley Cup winners, in the rafters at Northwoods Credit Union Arena, pictured with a national championship trophy? UMD's ultimate team player answers the question modestly, but honestly.
"That never really crossed my mind, but that would be kind of cool," Kuhlman said. "It's obviously great to hang a banner at Amsoil, but in Cloquet, that would be pretty great."