He understands the fascination, but Matt Cullen still finds it a little surprising. At an age when the candles on his birthday cake represent a fire hazard, the Wild forward still is plugging away in the NHL, back in his home state after abandoning his plans to retire.
Cullen celebrated a pair of milestones Thursday as the Wild played Montreal. On his 41st birthday, he played his 1,500th NHL game, centering the Wild’s fourth line and scoring his first goal of the season. His advanced age — in NHL terms, at least — has generated awe and admiration, and it drew a large crowd of reporters to his locker following the morning skate.
There’s no real secret to his longevity, Cullen said, just good nutrition, proper self-care and a desire to keep playing.
“I consider it a blessing,” said Cullen, the NHL’s second-oldest active player behind 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr of Calgary. “I’m lucky to be playing at the age I am.
“It’s just fun to be part of it. I really love playing the game. And as I get older, the challenge of competing and staying at the level I’m at, I enjoy that, too.”
Cullen expected to retire after winning his third Stanley Cup last spring with Pittsburgh. He changed his mind when he realized his body felt good enough to continue, helped by dietary changes such as going dairy- and gluten-free.
He gets his share of teasing from younger teammates, but their respect runs deep.
“He’s ooooold,” Jason Zucker said. “But it’s crazy, the way he can still play the game at 41. It’s incredible.”
Wild forward Marcus Foligno was liberated Thursday, getting out from behind the bars of the cage that has confined him for about two weeks. Foligno broke a facial bone in an Oct. 12 fight against Chicago’s John Hayden, and when he resumed playing eight days later, he had to wear a full cage mask to protect his left cheekbone. Foligno was grateful it allowed him to get back in the lineup after missing only one game, but he was glad to be rid of it.
“It feels good just to have that off,” said Foligno, who got two goals and an assist while in the cage. “Your peripheral [vision] is hindered a little bit because of it.
“I was just joking with the guys, ‘Oh, this is what it looks like out here.’ I’m looking forward to getting back to normal now.”
For Foligno, “normal” means being ready to fight again — or, as he put it, “play my full game.” The Wild ends its homestand Saturday against Chicago, creating a potential rematch against Hayden. Foligno will be prepared for anything, but he won’t be looking for trouble.
“It might be smart not to test it right away,” he said. “But we’re good to go.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau stayed with the same six defensemen he played in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Winnipeg. Boudreau said he considered scratching Matt Dumba, whose intercepted drop-pass led to the winning goal in that game. Dumba got a reprieve and stayed with Jonas Brodin on the second pair.
Kyle Quincey was the healthy scratch for the second game in a row, after Gustav Olofsson played well enough Tuesday to stay in the lineup. Olofsson teamed with Mike Reilly on the third pair.
• Forward Landon Ferraro, who has missed six games because of a hip flexor injury, participated in Thursday’s morning skate. Boudreau said he could be ready to play Saturday.
• The concrete base for the rink floor at the Wild’s new practice facility was poured Thursday. The TRIA Rink and Treasure Island Center, located on the site of the former Macy’s store in downtown St. Paul, is expected to be completed in December.