MOORHEAD — Former NHL star Matt Cullen may be retired, but that doesn’t stop him from getting up at the crack of dawn for hockey practice. But now instead of sharpening his own skills, he gets up early to help coach his son’s Pee Wee hockey team.
Cullen gets up every morning to help the young skaters in the Moorhead Youth Hockey Association inside of a newly-renovated building that bears his name —The Cullen Hockey Center. A ribbon cutting event was held Friday to commemorate the completion of Phase II of the facility’s renovation, which included adding a third sheet of ice, a new entrance, an updated lobby and a repaired parking lot.
“We’ve been skating on this rink every morning at 6 a.m., so you’re all welcome to come out and watch practice,” Cullen said to a crowd at the Cullen Hockey Center ribbon cutting event. “I can tell you it’s fun watching the sun coming up through the glass windows there and it’s just a special facility. It’s fitting for a special program.”
The three-time Stanley Cup winner is in his first winter out of the NHL after announcing his retirement in July. He played 1,648 games for eight teams, scored 285 goals and had 504 assists. He played more games in his career, playoffs included, than all but two players in NHL history. But now for the first time since the 1997-98 season, he is home and not dealing with the busy lifestyle of an NHL player as the youth hockey season gets underway.
“I think I’m busier now than when I was playing — coaching hockey now and running around with the boys now that hockey season has started,” said Cullen, who has three sons. “It’s really nice being home, being around the kids and their hockey, and being around the program and reconnecting with old friends here. It’s great.”
Adding a third sheet of ice to the Cullen Hockey Center, formerly known as the Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena, allows the MYHA to give better ice time to its players and allows Moorhead to host large hockey tournaments. And the new rink is fully accessible for adaptive sled hockey.
The building that houses the third rink will only have ice in it during the hockey season, and MYHA executive director Rob Gramer says that he hopes to allow other sports the opportunity to practice indoors during the spring and that the facility will host other non-athletic events as well, such as trade shows or car shows.
“I applaud the board of MYHA for having the vision to put this together,” Moorhead mayor Johnathan Judd said. “When I spoke at the state of the cities about hockey being part of Moorhead’s DNA, they’re going to hear about why I said what I said. This community is brought together by projects like this to ensure that as a community children will walk through these doors no matter what background they’re from whether they can skate or not because we’ve got dedicated people in our community that are committed to building character in our children.”
Dedication to children in the community is something Cullen gets to see now for the first time since he was a part of the program as a youngster and his dad, Terry Cullen, was the boys hockey coach at MHS.
“It’s nice to be home and be a part of the program again and see what it’s all about,” Cullen said. “This program is extremely special to me and my entire family, as is the community of Moorhead. To see the rink finally finished, and be a part of the program again and see all the work that goes into putting this thing together is really rewarding. It’s great being a part of it.”