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Heath Hotzler, Published November 06 2010

Moorhead's Cullen joins exclusive American-born club with milestone

Moorhead’s Matt Cullen has earned his status as a playmaker.

Even as a 15-year-old bantam, the veteran NHL center had a knack for finding a teammate in perfect scoring position.

Since then, box scores in newspapers across the country tell the story.

Assist: Matt Cullen. Assist: Matt Cullen. Assist: Matt Cullen.

Forget Donald Trump. Cullen, in his first year with the Minnesota Wild, should be teaching the art of the deal.

On Friday, Cullen became just the 47th player born in the United States to record 300 career assists in the NHL, according to NHL.com. He helped on the Wild’s go-ahead goal in the third period of a 2-1 victory against the Calgary Flames.

The Wild improved to 6-4-2.

Back in his hometown, Cullen’s family and former coaches said his talent and desire stood out from an early age.

“He’s always had great vision,” said Matt’s father, Terry Cullen, who was the Spuds coach when Matt led the team to three consecutive Minnesota state tournament title games from 1993-95.

“He’s always been able to see the game, and see it at a high level. He’s been blessed with some pretty good hands and he spent a lot of time working on it.”

While many other kids tried to become the next big goal-scoring machine, Matt Cullen worked tirelessly on getting teammates involved, Moorhead Youth Hockey Association coach Dennis Bushy said.

Bushy, who coached Cullen as a 14-and 15-year-old bantam, said teammates always wanted to be a part of Cullen’s line.

“They knew he would feed them the puck,” said Bushy, a coach in the MYHA for 33 years. “But you would have to find the right guy who would find the open ice. He’s not going to give it to you if you are covered.”

Cullen, 34, is off to the best start of his 13-year career since signing a 3-year, $10.5 million deal with Minnesota this offseason.

He has three goals and eight assists through 12 games.

Cullen’s career high for points in a season is 49 in 2005-06 and 2007-08.

He’s tied for second in the league this year with nine points on the power play.

Not bad for a player Terry Cullen says was once labeled by some experts as too slow to reach the NHL.

“It’s pretty easy to be proud of Matt,” Terry said. “He’s done everything the right way and he’s overcome the things he’s needed to overcome to get where he’s at.”

Calgary 1 0 0–1

Minnesota 1 0 1–2

First period: 1, Calgary, Bourque 7 (Giordano, Morrison), 10:45 (pp). 2, Minnesota, Clutterbuck 3 (Brunette, Falk), 15:30.

Third period: 3, Minnesota, Havlat 1 (Cullen, Schultz), 4:20.

Shots on Goal – Calgary 11-11-12 – 34. Minnesota 10-9-4 – 23.

Goalies: Calgary, Kiprusoff 5-6-0 (23 shots-21 saves). Minnesota, Backstrom 6-3-2 (34-33).

A – 17,124 (18,064). T – 2:18.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com