Matt Cullen began his NHL career in 1997. After two seasons at St. Cloud State and beginning his first professional season with the AHL team in Cincinnati, Cullen played 61 games with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Since then Cullen has worn eight NHL sweaters including multiple stops in Carolina, Minnesota and now Pittsburgh.
Tuesday night, Matt Cullen will play his 1500th NHL game which ranks him second all-time among U.S. born players. Only Chris Chelios who didn’t retire until he was 48-years-old has played more. In 1499 games, Cullen has 728 points (264g, 464a) and three Stanley Cup championships.
Penguins coaches have repeatedly called him “an extension of the coaching staff.” Based on player praise, that much was obvious.
“I grew up watching him, (when) I was a kid in Minnesota. Just his work ethic and routine throughout the day,” Bjugstad said. “I was joking with him. I don’t think I’ve played 1500 games in my life and he’s played 1500 NHL games. That’s a huge accomplishment for him.”
I used to watch–USA Hockey would do stickhandling videos and he was the demonstrator. I think he was like 16, so I used to watch his stick handling videos and try to do them in the garage as a kid,” Bjugstad laughed. “He’s got to show his kids. I don’t think he has yet.”
“I think he’s great, especially for the young guys on this team. It’s important to have that presence in the locker room. I don’t think I’ve been alive to play 1500 game yet,” Aston-Reese joked.
Regarding coaches calling Cullen an extension of the coaching staff: “Very true. More so on the penalty kill, as of late. He’s been a vocal guy. (We’ve) been struggling a little bit there. He’s one of the first guys to talk about what we can fix and what we can correct.”
“That’s insane. It’s so impressive. It’s something every hockey player dreams of but not many can get there,” Dumoulin chuckled. “For him to play for as many teams as he has and been around the league so long, it’s just a statement of what a guy he is.”
“It’s been great to be his teammate, to learn from him, to see a guy who has played that many games and see why he has stuck around so long.”
What was Dumoulin doing in 1997?
“I don’t know, I was probably trading Pokemon cards or something. Definitely wasn’t thinking about playing hockey at this level.”
“It’s incredible. He’s a guy that he comes to the rink, he prepares himself really well. He takes care of his body. He’s a great example for all of us. To get to that point in your career is pretty exceptional,” Letang said. “I’m happy to be a part of it.”
“It’s such a great milestone there aren’t too many people that reach it. You know I think it’s a reflection of his passion for the game and his professionalism. There aren’t too many guys that that take care of themselves and train the way he does and lives the way he does in order to give himself the best opportunity to continue to play and sustain his performance,” Sullivan said.
“That is what jumps out at me. Those attributes; just the love for the sport the discipline and the professionalism associated with being a pro and taking control of all the things that you can from a training standpoint and taking care of your body so that you have the ability to play well into your elder years.”
Elder years? All of us who are 42 and older (including Sullivan) may take issue with that…as soon as we can get out of this chair.