Most Outstanding Player Kuhlman helps Minnesota Duluth navigate a challenging season

Karson Kuhlman scores to give Minnesota Duluth the lead in the first period Saturday (photo: Melissa Wade).

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The 2017-18 Minnesota Duluth season ended with the best possible outcome: a national championship.

And for Bulldogs captain Karson Kuhlman, the added honor of being named most outstanding player was the cherry on the sundae.

But outstanding players aren’t made in one game.

One of the great story lines of Minnesota Duluth’s road to a title is that it was a road that was anything but smooth.

The Bulldogs’ record hovered around .500 for much of the season. No team before this has won the championship with 16 losses.

They were also a young group that made a lot of mistakes as they learned.

Then semifinal and consolation losses in the NCHC tournament required an improbable combination of results to get Minnesota Duluth into the NCAA field as the final at-large team after what Kuhlman described as a “roller coaster” first half of the season.

“In the second half, we went on a little run. And I think coming down to Xcel for the NCHC tournament there was a good wake-up call for us,” said Kuhlman. “We got a taste of what playoff hockey was like. We got punched in the nose a little there and were fortunate enough to make the tournament, and obviously ran with our opportunity.”

Sandelin depended on leadership from Kuhlman during periods of learning and in times of difficulty.

“We had a lot of talks early in the year,” said Sandelin. “There certainly were some frustrating times for everybody. But we found a way together to get through it, and he was a big part of that.

Though four of Kuhlman’s 20 points this season — eighth-best on the team — came in the NCAA tournament, he had been held scoreless in the NCHC playoffs.

And while he may not have been the most outstanding Bulldogs player on the score sheet this season, “outstanding” is just one superlative coach Scott Sandelin used to describe the captain.

“I can’t say enough about Karson,” said Sandelin. “He’s a great kid. He’s been an outstanding captain for us and I was so excited to hear he was most valuable player of this tournament because he certainly deserved it.”

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