Minor Hockey Moments: Matt Cullen

 

Matt Cullen won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, on his day with the cup he had it brought to Fargo, North Dakota for an annual whiffle ball tournament with his friends.<br>

 
 
 
 
 

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Matt Cullen won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, on his day with the cup he had it brought to Fargo, North Dakota for an annual whiffle ball tournament with his friends. That off-season, Cullen signed as an unrestricted free agent with the New York Rangers, but played only one season there before being traded back to the Hurricanes in July 2007. During the NHL lockout in 2004-05, Cullen played for SG Cortina in the Italian league winning the scoring title with 60 points in 36 games.

Born in Virginia, Minnesota, Cullen laced up his skates for the first time in the Moorhead Youth Hockey House League. “The first team I played on was the Moorhead Orange,” recalled the 6-foot-1 200 lb center. “My dad was a high school hockey coach so I grew up around the game.” While his dad was busy coaching, Cullen’s mom had her hands full with three hockey playing sons. “Both my parents were involved because I had two brothers that also ended up playing professional hockey,” said Cullen of his mother. “My mom did most of the driving because my dad coached. He was a school teacher and he coached hockey so he didn’t have a lot of extra time to drive us around.”

Sometimes playing for your father can be a difficult experience for a young athlete, but if the 82 points in 28 games (a Moorhead Spud record) is any indication, Cullen flourished under the tutelage of his dad. “You know, it wasn’t as hard as it could have been,” said Cullen of his time playing for his father. “There are some things that are obviously different, but I kind of looked at it as an advantage to be able to kind of pick his brain and I thought he was a pretty good hockey guy.” The elder Cullen preferred a simple approach to the game and wasn’t interested in berating his players. “My dad was pretty quiet behind the bench, but we were fortunate because we won a lot of games so there wasn’t much to yell about,” said Cullen of a Spud team that had 25 wins and only 3 losses in 1994-95. “Work hard and have fun is all he’d basically say. He believed there was a lot more that went into it, but if you took care of those two things, you’d be fine.”

Growing up in a hockey family, Cullen’s memory is packed with stories of road trips, early morning practices and out-of-town tournaments. “When I was a squirt we won the Fargo tournament,” said Cullen of the 64-team international tournament in North Dakota. “We won it and I remember it being pretty special to play against some teams from Canada.

“We used to stay at the nice hotels and we’d play knee hockey in the hallways all over the hotel and the hotel staff would chase us all over the place,” said Cullen. They didn’t like us doing that, but we’d play hockey everywhere.”

Though Cullen enjoyed many successful seasons in minor hockey, he still has some bad memories of some of the arenas in northern Minnesota. “The rink that I grew up playing on had chicken wire fencing instead of glass,” said Cullen. “So if you got your stick caught, the butt-end would stab you right in the gut, and on top of that, it was a cold barn.” On the bright side, the Hurricanes center vividly remembers the first time he got to play on an NHL ice surface. “We got to play at the Met Centre once where the North Stars used to play, but the best rink was the St. Paul Civic Centre where the Xcel Centre now is,” said Cullen. “It’s where they played the state high school tournament and I got to play in that three times and it had clear boards at the bottom which were really cool. The 17, 000 people watching was pretty cool too.”
 
 
 
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