To see Matt Cullen skating around at today’s Minnesota Wild practice, you might think that he was just starting a National Hockey League career, not on the verge of playing in his 1,000th NHL game.
However, the 35-year-old – who still comes to the rink with the zeal of players half his age – will hit the milestone tomorrow night when the Wild plays the San Jose Sharks at Xcel Energy Center.
“It’s kind of funny to think that I’m that old already,” Cullen joked. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and certainly more than I ever could have dreamt of and to be able to do it at home is something special.”
The former Moorhead Spud star went on to play college hockey at St. Cloud State University for two seasons before making his NHL debut with the Anaheim Ducks in 1998.
“My first game was in Maple Leaf Garden,” Cullen remembered. “What stands out is that I lost the first faceoff against Mats Sundin right back to their point, and they shot it and the goalie saved it.”
Cullen’s line was immediately changed after the play.
“It was a short shift,” he said with a laugh. “It doesn’t seem like that long ago, that’s the funny thing.”
Playing all those games, Cullen is still humble and has perspective on his career, “I realize how lucky I am to be able to do this and I enjoy it everyday.”
Head Coach Mike Yeo and teammates talk about Cullen’s accomplishment, in a Wild TV video, here.
After practice, Yeo addressed Marco Scandella’s reassignment to Houston earlier today. With seven healthy defensemen on the Wild’s roster, Yeo said, “He’s a young player – doesn’t have to clear waivers – can go to the minors and its pretty easy for us to focus still on his development and make sure we give him a chance to go down and play some games and get his confidence back.”
“It’s a little bit easier to make this decision and handle it this way with a guy like that.”
Finally, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (lower body) again didn’t practice with the team today. He hasn’t skated since playing against Vancouver on January 4. Yeo said that Bouchard was going to get “checked out today,” so we should know more about his status tomorrow.