Wild team-bonding trip to the Northland draws praiseComing to Duluth was something Matt Cullen considered 15 years ago. As a native of Virginia and a Minnesota Duluth hockey fan idolizing players like Brett Hull and Matt Christensen, he listed UMD among his top college choices in 1995.
By: Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune
Coming to Duluth was something Matt Cullen considered 15 years ago.
As a native of Virginia and a Minnesota Duluth hockey fan idolizing players like Brett Hull and Matt Christensen, he listed UMD among his top college choices in 1995.
Cullen, who played high school hockey in Moorhead, Minn., ultimately picked St. Cloud State.
“I was very close to coming to UMD, but the biggest factor was I wanted to work on my skating and because St. Cloud has an Olympic-size rink, I thought it would force me to improve. I very much wanted to get to the NHL,” Cullen said Tuesday. “I loved the Bulldogs growing up. They were far and away my favorite team.”
He did improve and did get to the NHL, and begins his 14th season Saturday. Cullen, 34, is in his second year with the Minnesota Wild and is centering Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse on the team’s No. 2 line.
After finishing exhibition play last week, the Wild took a 48-hour team-bonding trip to the Northland, finishing with practice at Amsoil Arena on Tuesday morning.
They went through rigorous, off-ice training with a former U.S. Army Ranger in the woods of Superior on Sunday, played golf at Northland Country Club on Monday and stayed at a North Shore resort.
“It’s been as good as we could’ve hoped for. We don’t have a single complaint,” Mike Yeo, first-year Wild coach, said. “Everyone has been so hospitable and (Amsoil Arena) is such a great facility.
“I was impressed by the effort of our players. They are physically and mentally tired because this was tough. You practice hard to win and we’re hoping to continue to get better. We wanted to bond as a team and have some fun, so mission accomplished.”
Yeo, 38, was hired in June, moving up from head coach of Minnesota’s American Hockey League team in Houston. The Wild are looking to improve in many areas, including getting to the playoffs. A lack of scoring was a factor in missing the playoffs the past three years, the past two under Minnesotan Todd Richards.
Cullen sees better days ahead.
“In the preseason the atmosphere has been good, up tempo, positive and detailed. Everyone has been told what’s expected of him and that’s important,” said Cullen, who joined the team last season as a free-agent signee. “Being from Minnesota I got goose bumps when going into the Xcel Energy Center as a Wild player. I still do.”
He spent the first 10 years of his life in Virginia, where his dad, Terry, had coached the high school hockey team. The family moved to Moorhead in 1986 and Terry coached Matt with the Spuds. As a senior, in 1995, Cullen and the Spuds lost to Dave Spehar and the Duluth East Greyhounds 5-3 in the Class AA state high school title game.
Another Virginia native, Mike Sertich, made a UMD recruiting pitch to Cullen, who went on to spend two years at St. Cloud State through 1997. He was in the NHL the next season, with Anaheim, and has played in 958 career regular-season games with 181 goals and 319 assists for 500 points. He was on Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup-winning team.
NHL exhibition game in Duluth?
The Wild contingent praised all phases of the trip (despite goalie Josh Harding being injured in off-ice training Sunday). Yeo said he wouldn’t rule out a return in 2012 and wouldn’t rule out a possible NHL exhibition game at Amsoil Arena. The Wild begin the regular season at home Saturday against Columbus after going 3-3-1 in the preseason.
Also with good reviews of the two days was Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, a former UMD star in his 10th year with the team.
Duluth native Glen Andresen, part of the Wild travel party as managing editor of the team website, wild.com, helped coordinate the filming of a portrait of 90-year-old Duluth hockey player Mark Sertich on Tuesday. Video was shot at the Duluth Heritage Sports Center, Amsoil Arena and Sertich’s home.
Sertich has been in a recreational league with Duluth firefighters since the 1980s. He injured an ankle June 3 while playing, but is back on skates. He celebrated his 90th birthday July 18.
Andresen hopes to have the first part of the story ready for airing on Wild TV, on the team’s website, in November and the second part in January.