Moorhead native Cullen a win away from hoisting Stanley Cup
FARGO -- Former Moorhead (Minn.) standout and current Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen isn't thinking about the Colton Orr hit that left him limp on the ice in 2007. He's not thinking of losing in the conference semifinals in 2007, getting ...
FARGO - Former Moorhead (Minn.) standout and current Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen isn’t thinking about the Colton Orr hit that left him limp on the ice in 2007. He’s not thinking of losing in the conference semifinals in 2007, getting swept by the Penguins in the conference finals in 2009, or not making it out of the first round of the playoffs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
The 39-year-old is not thinking of the conversations about retirement at the end of recent seasons or how close this season with the Penguins didn’t happen. For a second he got excited remembering how much the Stanley Cup weighs on Wednesday, but he refused to let himself get too far into the moment.
“I remember it very well,” Cullen said. “It’s so exciting even to just think about - I’m not allowing myself to go there just yet. Just trying to not go too far.”
One more game and Cullen can go no further in the hockey world. The Penguins will play to clinch the Stanley Cup Final today. That’s where Cullen has his eyes.
“You think back to the younger days and a little bit of all the work you put in when you approach these big games. Honestly, the biggest thing is you try not to think about too much other than playing the game,” Cullen said. “It’s easy to get caught up in all the emotion. It’s an emotional time. Mentally, it’s a really challenging time because there’s so much weighing on your mind. I’ve found the best thing is to focus on the game and what you need to do to play well. Sometimes you might think back on the key moments in your career. Ultimately, you try to focus on where you’re at right now.”
Cullen hasn’t even thought about what he would do with his day with the Stanley Cup if he won it. Just like the Penguins currently, in 2006, his Carolina Hurricanes were up 3-1 in the series with Edmonton before the Oilers won Game 5 and Game 6 to force a Game 7.
“I haven’t even gone that far. It’s so easy to get carried away, thinking about what might happen. I really haven’t gone that far,” Cullen said. “We were in this position in 2006, and we ended up going to Game 7. I have a strong understanding of trying to make the most of the moment you’re in and try to get this one (Thursday) night. I haven’t gone that far.”
Pittsburgh has never hoisted a Stanley Cup at home, and no professional team in Pittsburgh has won a championship at home in 56 years. Cullen doesn’t care where the Penguins win it.
“You work the whole season. All you want to do is win it. It doesn’t matter where,” Cullen said. “As a hockey player you understand that you have the home crowd behind you, it’s going to be a loud building, and there’s going to be a lot of energy in the building, so you can take advantage of it. It’s extra special to win it at home in front of your home fans, but the prize is the same. We’re doing everything we can to win it.”
It’s been nearly a decade since Cullen won his first. It’s hard for him to answer questions about what it would feel like because he never imagined he’d be back.
“There were a lot of years where it seemed like an awful long ways away,” Cullen said. “That long time between it makes you understand a couple things: how hard it is to get here and how many things have to go right, how special it is to get here and how much you appreciate it. It’s such a hard place to get to.
“That’s one thing myself and some of the older guys on the team try to impress on the other guys on the team. It’s so hard to get here. You may never ever be in this position again in your life. You think about all the work that you put into it. This is a moment you have to grab onto and take advantage of it.”
And if he grabs that moment and holds the Stanley Cup with his wife and three sons with him? Is there a more perfect way to end a career?
“Truthfully, when it’s all said and done, I’ll sit down with those three little boys and my wife and we’ll take some time at the lake and make a decision,” Cullen said. “Those three little guys and (Bridget) will have input. We’ll decide what’s best for the family, not just me.”