by Joe Flionis | AHL On The Beat
Having grown up in a military family, Karson Kuhlman knows a thing or two about having a strong work ethic.
From an early age, life lessons about discipline, toughness, loyalty and teamwork were not only demonstrated, but were always expected.
He takes them to the rink every day.
“Those life lessons are a part of me,” the Bridgeport Islanders forward said. “But of all the life lessons I’ve learned, I think the most important one is respect.
“Beyond that, having a good work ethic and treating everyone how you want to be treated. Those were at the forefront growing up.”
Kuhlman’s parents, Dean and Jennifer, both served with the Air National Guard for an extended period of time, instilling advice that not only helped Kuhlman grow as a person, but as a hockey player.
“It definitely played a major role,” said Kuhlman, reminiscing on how his family dynamic contributed to his hockey career. “My dad was a chief for a long time. I think they instilled a lot of great things in myself and my brother. They taught us things like sacrifice and how to work hard.”
A Minnesota native, Kuhlman could have seen himself following a similar career path. But as a standout player at Cloquet High School and then part of the United States National Development Team, hockey quickly took over.
Kuhlman played four seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth from 2014-18 prior to turning pro. He captained the Bulldogs to a national championship in 2018 and was named tournament MVP before signing with the Boston Bruins as an undrafted free agent.
He had played 147 NHL games between the Bruins, Seattle Kraken and Winnipeg Jets in addition to 74 AHL contests with the Providence Bruins before signing a deal with the New York Islanders on July 5, 2023.
“Obviously coming into a new team and a new group of guys, you try to integrate yourself right away,” Kuhlman said. “We have a great group and I think the leadership here is top notch. Obviously, the wins haven’t come as much as we want them to, but that can change in a hurry.”
As the calendar flips to 2024, the Bridgeport Islanders are set to open a season-long, five-game homestand. Part of that stretch is a night Kuhlman looks forward to every year: Military Appreciation Night, set for Saturday against the Charlotte Checkers.
The Islanders will wear specialty camouflage jerseys, which will be up for bid through an online auction to benefit the UConn Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans program.
“It’s great that we get to take a night and really honor the people who serve and keep our country free,” Kuhlman said. “We can never say thank you enough.”
Having grown up in a family with such a prominent military background, Kuhlman explained the consideration and openness he always had in potentially serving, and following in his parents’ footsteps.
“I think it’s always kind of an open conversation in our family,” Kuhlman said. “Especially when we were talking about going to different universities to play, there was always the brief discussion about a few schools with an emphasis on serving, but ultimately, it just didn’t go that way.”
Despite not serving himself, the admiration that Kuhlman has for those protecting our country is incredibly clear. In fact, he and teammates Seth Helgeson, Jeff Kubiak and William Dufour spent a day off in mid-December visiting the Air National Guard facility in Orange, Conn. They toured the base and learned about the local military operation for nearly two hours, thanking personnel as they went.
“I have so much respect for what they do and try to give back as much as I can,” Kuhlman said.