If Wild's Cullen misses, he'll hear from the missus

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2011 - 11:40 PM

The Wild's Matt Cullen is ready to rebound from a tough 2010-11 season, and he's sure to receive "encouragement'' from his wife Bridget.

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Bridget Cullen tries to be the supportive hockey wife, she really does.

But as a former college basketball player at Minnesota State Mankato, sometimes she can't help those competitive juices.

Take March, when her husband, Wild center Matt Cullen, returned home from a loss in Dallas.

In that game, Cullen committed a bit of a boo-boo. Mistakenly thinking there was a Wild defenseman in front of the net, Cullen centered a tape-to-tape pass to Mike Ribeiro for a Dallas goal.

"So he comes through the door and I said, 'I just have to show you one thing,'" Bridget Cullen said, laughing. "He comes over to the TV and I have it all cued up on our DVR.

"I'm like, 'What were you possibly thinking?' He just walked into the bedroom and didn't say a word. I said, 'Honestly, what's going through your mind here?' He said, 'Obviously I wasn't thinking.'"

Months later, Matt Cullen still laughs hysterically at the memory. "She has her opinions. Actually, I should just start tweeting those or put them in a book. They're funny."

"But no wife," Bridget says, "should have their DVR cued up to that."

If Bridget does cue up the DVR this season, her husband is confident they'll be nothing but positives as he tries to turn the page on "the most frustrating season hockey-wise that I can remember."

Cullen wasn't happy with his season personally (39 points, 14 at even-strength) and was embarrassed that a team he believed was a playoff contender could lose eight in a row when the season mattered most.

Cullen -- who once upon a time led Moorhead High School to three consecutive state tournament appearances, was a 1995 Minnesota "Mr. Hockey" finalist and was a standout at St. Cloud State -- chose to sign with his home-state Wild over several other teams in 2010.

With that three-year, $10.5 million contract though came lofty expectations, not only to fulfill a second-line center role, but to place a proven winner inside the Wild locker room.

"At this point of my career, especially when you come home, you want to succeed and you want to play in the playoffs," said Cullen, who turns 35 in November and won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. "There were a lot of expectations, and you start to feel guilty, to take responsibility for the losing."

Cullen leaned on his family during the tough times.

His two brothers, Mark and Joe, play professionally, and his father, Terry, was one of Minnesota's great high school coaches (Virginia and Moorhead). His energetic three sons often slapped him back into reality.

And then there's Bridget, who tries "really, really hard" to be positive ... with a little loving push.

"She's got that fire. She wants to win all the time," Matt said, laughing. "In Italy [during the 2004-05 lockout], one game I got a hat trick in the first period. Later, I made a play to try to set a guy up, and it didn't work out.

"I came to the bench, happened to glance up and she screams, 'Shoot the puck!'" Cullen said, in hysterics. "I was like, 'Are you kidding?'"

As Bridget explains, "Well, he was passing and passing. He had the hot hand."

Cullen missed Tuesday's exhibition game still smarting from an Eric Tangradi check Saturday in Pittsburgh, but "I feel really good physically -- and mentally."

This season, he hopes to find a home on the second line with Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a line that looked electric in two scrimmages and the exhibition opener in Edmonton.

"It's definitely early, but I'm really excited for the year," Cullen said. "I always put so much pressure on myself, and sometimes that's a double-edge sword. Sometimes it bites you when you're struggling. You get down on yourself. At the same time, that's probably what's gotten me to where I am.

"I have big expectations. I have to try to find a way to balance that -- to not get too down when things aren't going well while continuing to push and expect big things from myself."

And, Matt knows, if he doesn't, his wife will.

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