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Published June 27 2012

Cullen joins Wild tour for stop in Moorhead

MOORHEAD – It’s not Clark Kent going into a phone booth, but this was close enough for 10-year-old Wyatt Gunkel.

Gunkel was standing in line at the Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena to meet a few Minnesota Wild players who were in Moorhead on Wednesday as part of a statewide tour.

Out of the arena’s front doors came Wild center and Moorhead’s Matt Cullen.

Cullen, fresh from working out, went from the average guy wearing a black shirt to wearing a black hat with an orange, block “M” and a light blue polo resembling those the rest of his Wild teammates were wearing.

“He’s been a pretty good role model,” said Gunkel, who was wearing a maroon Wild shirt with Cullen’s name and No. 7 on the back. “I have always watched him play. He works really hard and I try to work as hard as he does.”

Then within 10 minutes of coming out of the arena, anyone who had a decent spot in line got a chance to witness why so many area youth look up to Cullen.

When Cullen walked out of the arena, he was hugged by teammates Justin Falk and Chad Rau along with former Wild forward Wes Walz, who were also part of the tour.

“From looking around, it is the biggest turnout we’ve had, and Matt Cullen might play a role in that,” Walz said. “Kids have us sign stuff, parents ask questions and for us it is a lot of fun.”

Aside from getting love from his teammates, Cullen also got an award recognizing that he has played in 1,000 career NHL games.

When the ceremony was over, he took time to meet and sign autographs for hundreds of area youth.

“It is cool,” Cullen said. “It is really fun to see. Moorhead is such a great hockey community and to see all the people come out and be a part of it. For me, it makes me proud to be from here.”

Walz, who played seven of his 11 NHL seasons with the Wild, said being on the tour has been a pleasant experience.

One of the reasons why – aside from loyal fans – is the gigantic travel coach in which the team traveled with.

Walz, now a pregame analyst for Fox Sports North, said the bus featured five TVs, neon lights and DirecTV, making it possible to watch every Minnesota Twins game while on the road.

“We left the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday afternoon and we went to International Falls,” Walz said. “It really is nice for us to see the different towns, because we know it is not always easy for people to get to the Xcel. It really has been nice to see these folks.”

Walz also mentioned how having someone like Cullen hail from Moorhead is a special accomplishment. Cullen just completed his second season with the Wild scoring 35 points in 73 games.

“He’s very humble,” Walz said. “He has won a Stanley Cup. He has been told how great of a player he is for a long time now. He’s handled it like a true pro and these kids in Fargo-Moorhead should take notice of what he has done.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.