Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Matt Cullen "Extra"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild training camp Updated: September 17, 2010 - 8:51 AM

Good puck morning to you.

It's officially hockey season. Somebody certainly told Mother Nature. Cool, crisp morning out there, which is making the coffee go down good (well). Today marks the first day of camp with physicals and fitness testing (thank goodness not for the media) and the media luncheon. I'll blog later on today.

Tomorrow's paper will be a Todd Richards Q and A from earlier this month and a notebook on a bunch of other stuff.

Here is the Matt Cullen feature in Friday's paper. It includes a video slide show produced by photographer Carlos Gonzalez. I'd also pick up the actual paper though because there's a really nice display with a bunch of cool pictures taken by Carlos.

The front page also seems to have a purple hue today.

Kent Youngblood pointed this out to me the other day, but Cullen and actor Tom Cavanagh are pretty much doppelgangers. It's eerie.

So, as you can see, last month Carlos and I hopped on 94-west and drove over to Fargo/Moorhead to spend the day with Cullen. We watched Cullen's workout regimen, skate, took a look inside his childhood home and had lunch over at his current home.

In a span of five days, I was in the childhood homes of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Matt Cullen, ha, because I had just gotten back from the UK.

We started the day by meeting Cullen out at Dike West Park in Fargo. Cullen, his brother, Mark, and brothers Brian & John Lee -- fellow Moorhead grads -- were going to run up and down the dike almost 30 times. And run is an inaccurate verb. It was much more grueling than that. Forward, backward, squats, jumps, etc. I would have torn my ACL and ruptured by Achilles in five minutes.

“It’s the only hill in Fargo,” he said, grinning. “Fargo’s so flat, they had to build one.”

I said to Carlos, "Can you imagine back in the day players actually went to camp to get in shape?"

Before they hit the dike, however, they warmed up by doing football routes. Brian, who plays for Ottawa, felt Matt was showing off for the camera, catching balls with one hand and leaping and stretching out for balls.

"Don't one hand it," Lee finally snapped. "That was for show. Don't TV it. You catch with both hands."

Cullen was a high school quarterback until he sprained his ankle sophomore year and he said, laughing, "Dad ... coach, said, 'No more.'"

Down at the Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena, Cullen led more than a dozen players in a skate. Cullen led about a half-hour of drills, and then they scrimmage for about a half-hour. It was a cool experience for a couple bantam and Spud players who were allowed to join in, including 15-year-old Aaron Herdt, the grandson of Dennis Bushy, who runs the rink.

At one point, Matt sped by a defender and crossed a perfect feed to Herdt on a 2-on-1 that Herdt missed on.

"Uh-oh. Oh know. Aaron's going to be talking about that the rest of the day," said Bushy. "'I missed it, grandpa. Matt Cullen put it right on my stick and I missed it.' What an opportunity for these kids. What I would have given to be able to skate with NHL players."

As Matt and Mark Cullen, a Panthers free-agent pickup who was wearing a Gretzky jersey, did the tow-ropes to strengthen their legs, Herdt and his buddy watched intently.

"Look at their tongues hanging," Bushy said.

When the Cullens left the ice, Herdt and his friend immediately went for the tow rope and began emulating the Cullens.

It was a perfect example of how a couple pro hockey players had no clue what kind of influence they were being.

"They're not sure what it does for you, but the Cullens do it, so I'll do it," said Bushy, laughing, of his grandson and friend. "It's like when my grandkids see Matt uses a certain stick. They've got to get it, too."

After the skate, Cullen and his brother, Mark, worked out using the ARP, which stands for Accelerated Recovery Performance. Bret Hedican introduced the device to his Carolina teammates, and Hedican, who's now retired, believes it prolonged his career. You can see more about the ARP on the video Carlos shot.

From there, we went to Cullen's childhood home, where his mom still lives. There are these massive palm trees in the front yard, and Cullen said it's hard to believe he, his brothers and his buddies used to run football routes between them.

He told a really funny story about Mark Parrish when I noticed to the Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist photo from 1995 hanging on his bedroom wall. Parrish was a high school rival of sorts of Cullen, if for no other reason than Bloomington Jefferson eliminated Moorhead twice at the state tournament. They'd later become linemates and good friends at St. Cloud State, and actually well before Cullen was every traded to the Florida Panthers, I coincidentally chatted with Cullen on the phone from when he played in Anaheim for my first-ever Mark Parrish feature. This is back in my Panthers beat writing days.

“Here’s a typical Parry story,” Cullen says. “Parry and I go together to St. Cloud for our recruiting weekend. I’m so excited because we’re going to do it together and decide together.

“So Parry has his meeting first with Craig Dahl while I’m out waiting by and looking at the rink. Parry comes out and goes, ‘Cully, I committed. I’m going home for a dance. Yeah, uh, you should come here. Seeya.’ Do you believe that? Here I was so excited that we'd make this decision together over the weekend, and in five minutes, he commits, goes home and I'm there the whole weekend by myself.”
 
From his home, we grabbed lunch and went back to his home, where we got down to the real interview. I talked to him about countless things that will be appearing in stories throughout camp and probably the season, from how he's proof positive that hockey players can improve upon their skating, to the value of leadership, to the incredible influence Bret Hedican and many of those Carolina veterans had on his career, to how the lockout came at a perfect time for him because he went to Italy and gained confidence again after a bad experience in Florida to his Cully's Kids softball tournament in his backyard to some funny Stanley Cup stories from when he hosted the Cup at home.
 
Like I said, a lot of this stuff will appear later on in the paper.
 
I'll leave you with this -- a funny back and forth with his wife.
 
I asked if he’s worried about being pestered with ticket and other requests from friends and family, so Cullen says, “I’m not real worried about it.”
Bridget, laughing, quickly chimed in: “That’s because you don’t have to deal with it.”
Cullen said, “That’s true. It's because I know Bridge will take care of it.”
 

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