Already, this has been a memorable season for Wild veteran Matt Cullen.
The center has adopted the distinction as the oldest player in the NHL, he’s reached the double-digit goal plateau for the 16th time and the 41-year-old became the oldest U.S.-born player to score a goal and assist in the same game.
And now Cullen can add another highlight to the mix, as he was nominated by the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
The Masterton award is named for the former North Stars player, who died in 1968 and is the only NHL player to lose his life as the direct result of a hit during a game.
"It’s a huge honor to be nominated," Cullen said. "You play a long time, and obviously I appreciate every minute I’ve had in this league. I really have enjoyed it more than I ever would have expected, but there’s a lot of ups and downs as you go through a long career. It’s not all roses. Obviously, the last couple of years have been great and I’ve been given the opportunity to play at home for my final season. I’ll just say it’s quite an honor. I really appreciate it.”
This season almost never happened for Cullen; after collecting his second consecutive Stanley Cup with the Penguins and third overall last summer, Cullen seemed ready to retire. Ultimately, though, he decided he wanted to keep playing – and in his home state of Minnesota.
Cullen signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Wild to begin his second stint with the organization, a reunion that enabled him and his wife Bridget to give their three sons the type of upbringing Cullen had growing up in Moorhead.
"To be here now as we get closer to the playoffs and have this opportunity in front of me, in front of us, it’s great.," Cullen said. "This is what I came back for and I’m enjoying it.”
He’s also been a role model at the rink, with his leadership an asset to a team that has introduced a handful of young players to the roster this season. At one point, Cullen skated alongside Luke Kunin, who was born 37 days after Cullen’s first game in the NHL in 1997.
Overall, Cullen has contributed 10 goals and 21 points in 73 games while winning 333 of 661 faceoffs. He became the 38th player in league history and just the fourth American and fourth active player to skate in 1,400 games, and Cullen also notched his 700th career point this season.
Among Minnesota-born NHLers, he ranks second in games played, fourth in assists and points and fifth in goals.
Cullen’s impact, though, isn’t limited to the Wild; the former St. Cloud State standout and his family created the Cullen Children’s Foundation, which has donated more than $2 million to organizations that support children’s healthcare needs – specifically those battling cancer.
"I think I’m more proud of that than anything I’ve done on the ice," Cullen said. "In my mind, that’s probably more important than anything I’ve ever done on the ice. I feel really, really fortunate. I’ve been given more than I deserve. Along with Bridget, we both feel like it’s important to try to make a difference in other people’s lives. We’re lucky to have what we have and to be where we are, and I’m lucky to be playing this game right now at age 41."
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Mikael Granlund
Jordan Greenway-Matt Cullen-Nino Niederreiter
Marcus Foligno-Joel Eriksson Ek-Daniel Winnik
Ryan Suter-Matt Dumba
Jonas Brodin-Ryan Murphy
Nick Seeler-Nate Prosser
41: Points for captain Mikko Koivu in 46 career games against the Predators
3-0-2: The Wild’s record in its last five games.
7-3: The team’s record on the road in the last 10 games.
17-5-3: Nashville’s record against the Central Division.
21-3-1: Goalie Pekka Rinne’s record in his last 25 games.
About the Predators:
Since facing the Wild Saturday in Minnesota, the Predators have played only once – falling 5-4 in a shootout to the Jets Sunday. That bumped them up to 107 points, which is their most at this point of the season in team history. Nashville currently has more points than it has had at the conclusion of each of the last 10 campaigns. The Predators have the fewest goals-against in the NHL (185) and boast the best win percentage .713. They also lead the league in save percentage (.924) and shutouts (11).