SUNRISE, Fla. – Wild center Matt Cullen ran around the carpet at home with skates on as a 2-year-old.
He also motored around outside on a backyard rink and battled with his two brothers and his father, Terry, in the basement in a 2-on-2 competition.
Losers made the winners malts.
“I still haven’t forgiven my youngest son for the day he traded me in for Matt,” Terry said, “because it was always the youngest one and me against Matt and his brother Mark. One day Joe, the young one, said, ‘I think I want Matt on my team.’ I still haven’t forgiven him.”
Terry’s watched Matt’s entire journey — those in-house games, the days at Moorhead High School when he coached Matt and eventually Matt’s time in the NHL as a three-time Stanley Cup champion.
Friday and Saturday, he’ll get an even closer look at his son’s career, as the Wild will be accompanied by family members and mentors during its final two stops on a four-game road trip before the team pauses for the holiday break.
“This trip, I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Terry said. “I wouldn’t.”
Twenty-nine dads, brothers, sons and mentors — plus an uncle and cousin — joined the team in Florida, a get-together on the road the Wild plans every few years. Almost every player had someone in tow, and even some of the coaches and staff had a guest.
“It gets a little more personal,” said Henry Staal, Eric’s father. “You watch [the players] on TV. You see them, but now you actually get to know them. So you know a little what they’re like off the ice, which is kind of neat.”
Not only will the group take in Friday’s game against the Panthers, but it’ll fly with the team to Tampa for the second half of a back-to-back Saturday. A Catamaran cruise and tour of a cigar factory are also on the itinerary.
“For me, just being able to see Jason and hang with him is pretty cool,” said Scott Zucker, Jason’s father.
The group also took in Thursday’s practice at BB & T Center, watching from the seats as everyone participated.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk skated with the team for the first time since suffering a knee injury last Tuesday. He left the session early but impressed while he was on the ice, with coach Bruce Boudreau believing Dubnyk’s return after the break will be sooner than maybe the team initially thought.
“I was really pleasantly surprised,” Boudreau said. “The way he was moving in that one drill, I asked a player if that was Devan because you don’t expect the first time the guy’s on the ice in 10 days or close to 10 days anyway that he’s going to be that good.”
Winger Zach Parise, who’s still recovering from surgery on his back to alleviate pressure on a nerve that caused leg pain and weakness, continues to skate and although it remains unclear when he’ll be eligible to play, he’s getting more involved in practice.
“We just want to make sure — this has been such a long, lingering injury not only for this year but for previous years — that he plays when he’s fully ready,” Boudreau said. “To us, an extra week, an extra four, five days, an extra few games, his value is going to be tremendous when he gets back. But we want him back right, and I’m sure he wants to be back right.”
Getting to Florida to prepare for its final two games before the leaguewide, three-day hiatus wasn’t easy for the Wild.
Its plane had mechanical issues in Ottawa Tuesday night, so the team had to wait for another aircraft to arrive from Cleveland to shuttle it to Florida. The Wild didn’t take off until 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“Today I think it’s when it hits you a little bit more,” Jason Zucker said. “So I’ll definitely be taking a nap today to get geared up for tomorrow.”
Having those who guided the players throughout their lives in the crowd could also help.
Terry and Matt regularly chat hockey, a bond that hasn’t wavered as Matt moved through the ranks.
“We still talk all the time about the game and about what happened in the game,” Terry said. “He loves the game, and he still wants to talk to me about the game and I feel very privileged by that — that he involves me as much as he does.”
It makes sense that those conversations continue to happen and opportunities like this to share the experience are organized.
After all, Terry was there from the beginning when dessert — not contracts and championships — was at stake.
“They’re all great memories,” Matt Cullen said. “It’s where you fall in love with the game of hockey.”