Cullen's play cut short by injury
Matt Cullen went from one tear to another. After proceeding directly from leading the Italian League in goals to scoring five points for Team USA in two World Championship warm-up games, the former Moorhead High School hockey star tore the medial...
Matt Cullen went from one tear to another.
After proceeding directly from leading the Italian League in goals to scoring five points for Team USA in two World Championship warm-up games, the former Moorhead High School hockey star tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during an exhibition game against Germany two weeks ago in Munich.
The injury, one of very few since he turned pro in 1996, cut short Cullen's European vacation. His dad, Terry, however, was unable to cancel reservations to attend the World Championships and remains in Innsbruck, Austria.
"I was really excited and I was having a lot of fun playing," said Cullen, who was quietly replaced on the Team USA roster by former University of North Dakota standout Zach Parise. "I felt I was pretty well-prepared for the Worlds."
Cullen will be well-prepared to return to the NHL whenever the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season ends. Cullen's best guess is that a new collective bargaining agreement will be reached sometime this summer, although probably not before the June 1 target date that would assure a seamless start to the 2005-06 campaign.
Regardless, the 28-year-old Cullen will be ready. The MCL injury, which occurred on the last shift of the second to last exhibition game, didn't require surgery and had no impact on the rest of his knee. Cullen will have to wear a knee brace for another week and a half, but has already started offseason workouts with brothers Joe and Mark, both of whom play in the American Hockey League, NHL's top affiliate.
Prior to joining Team USA, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Cullen scored 60 points in 36 games with Cortina, leading the team to the Italian League finals. He took quickly to the country's language and the wide-open hockey, which was "better than I expected."
Skating on Olympic-sized ice sheets helped him return to his high-scoring form of 2001-02, when he posted 48 points for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Cullen scored a career-low 19 points playing in a career low 56 games with the Florida Panthers last season.
He then signed a one-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, but hasn't played a game for the club because of the lockout.
Does that contract carry over to next year? Will Carolina have a chance to match an offer he receives from another team? Might every player with an expired contract become a free agent? Nobody knows since the rules have yet to be determined.
But Cullen's stock is undoubtedly up.
"Which is a bit of a surprise," he said. "Just because there was no other hockey everybody was watching the European leagues pretty closely. I kind of got back to scoring and playing the way that I can and the way that I want to. It was a great year for me personally, just for my confidence."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Terry Vandrovec at (701) 241-5548