After Roth’s injury, Minnesota Duluth’s fourth line responds

With a fractured tibia suffered in the first period, Kobe Roth sits on a chair to celebrate Minnesota Duluth’s championship (photo: Melissa Wade).

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Kobe Roth had to get dressed again.

The Minnesota Duluth freshman forward had taken an awkward hit early in the first period of UMD’s 2-1 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, and his ankle got caught behind him, fracturing his tibia.

He spent much of the game in the locker room with ice on his ankle. But after the Bulldogs finished off their win, Roth wanted to be back out there on the ice for the celebration. He had teammate Jared Thomas assist him as he carefully walked out there on crutches.

“I had nothing on,” Roth said. “But the boys helped me put my pants on and then helped me put a jersey on. It was awesome.”

That’s the kind of team culture captain Karson Kuhlman said made the difference for the Bulldogs this season.

“That’s the culture. At the end of the day, we love each other and everybody would do anything for each other,” he said. “For ‘Rother’ to go down, it’s terrible, but for us to win the game and him being there with us the whole way is pretty special.”

Although it’s never easy to lose a player so early in the game, Roth’s injury didn’t faze the Bulldogs. Some teams might have responded to an injury to a fourth-line winger by limiting the ice time of that line — which also includes Jade Miller and Billy Exell. But UMD coach Scott Sandelin said he didn’t want to do that because he has liked the energy that line had given them all season.

“That line together, when Kobe and Jade and Billy have played together, they’ve been really good for us,” Sandelin said. “They all have really good chemistry. They can make plays. They bring energy.”

So on Saturday, the Bulldogs continued to roll four lines, with Kuhlman sliding in on that line at left wing with center Miller and right winger Exell.

“With Roth going out, I kinda figured we’d need someone to jump in there on the left side, and honestly my legs and body felt great,” Kuhlman said. “If you can’t find energy for that game, and in front of that crowd, you’ve got issues.”

“If there’s a guy who’s going to double, triple shift, it’s 20 over there,” Miller said of Kuhlman. “It’s his last college game. He’s going to give it his all. But with Kobe going down, he really made our line click. We just had to adapt. We’re in this thing together.”

Kuhlman, who had never played with Miller and Exell before Saturday night, fit in with them immediately. On their first shift on the ice after the injury, UMD forced a turnover at center ice and Miller found Kuhlman open near the blue line. He buried a wrist shot over the shoulder of Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris.

“It was a cool shift,” Miller said. “It’s always fun playing with new guys, and it’s nice that coach trusts us enough to keep putting us out there.”

Kuhlman played on that line for the rest of the game, easily picking up the most ice time for the Bulldogs.

“He’s our captain for a reason,” Roth said. “He’s an unbelievable leader. We couldn’t have been here without him. I’m so happy for him.”