ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — The name Matt Cullen resonates with many hockey fans around the state of Minnesota. That is especially true for some Alexandria residents.
Tim Cullen, Matt’s uncle, has watched his nephew grow into a successful NHL player over the last four decades. However, each of the past few offseasons has left his extended family with uncertainty about the future of his career.
“We are happy that he was able to play for so long and finish his career without any major concussions or injuries,” Tim said Wednesday, July 10, as his nephew announced his retirement. “It was such a pleasure to watch him play. Over the last three to four years we didn’t know what he was going to do.”
From a young age, Tim saw something in Matt that he didn’t see in the rest of his classmates.
“He was very competitive. He’s always been like that ever since he was young,” Tim said. “Matt was always at the top of his class because he worked hard. He wasn’t the best skater. I think he would tell you that. But he worked hard and lived to compete.”
Matt has a laundry list of accomplishments that compiled the entirety of his 21-year career.
“For me, my favorite thing was watching him win his first Stanley Cup,” Tim said. “For his family, his friends and his friends of friends, I know that meant a lot to him and to all of us.”
Matt’s accolades on the ice are impressive, but what separates him from the pack is what he does away from the game of hockey.
“He’s done so much with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” said Tim, who is heavily involved with the FCA in Alexandria. “He’s still in our promotional video that we show. His faith is a big part of him and he likes to share that with other young athletes.”
What many Minnesotans will remember Matt from is the 2017 NHL offseason. After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it looked like he would finally call it quits. Instead, he decided to return home to Minnesota. The former Moorhead Spud and St. Cloud State Husky was coming home for another Stanley Cup push.
“I remember how excited people were to have him back,” Tim said. “He was a perfect example of how to play the game the right way. He was so nice to everybody – treated people with respect. He made a lot of people very proud.”