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Hayden Goethe, Published January 15 2013

Wild's Cullen feels sense of urgency to start fast in a shortened season

Fargo - The National Hockey League season doesn’t even start until Saturday. Yet players like Minnesota Wild center Matt Cullen are already feeling a sense of urgency.

“There’s just no wiggle room in terms of easing into it,” Cullen said.

The Moorhead High School graduate and his Wild teammates are in the midst of an abbreviated training camp.

That’s due to the NHL lockout that ended last week, forcing the season to open three months later than its usual October start. Teams will play a 48-game schedule as opposed to the typical 82 games.

Training camps opened on Sunday, leaving teams with less than a week to prepare for the regular season. The Wild have no preseason games.

“The teams that can come out of the gates and have a good start are going to be at a huge advantage,” Cullen said. “… The start this year is so important.”

Plenty of buzz surrounded the Wild during the offseason, with the team signing free-agent winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to lucrative contracts.

Parise scored 31 goals and added 38 assists for the New Jersey Devils last season. Suter had a career-high 39 assists last season and was selected to his first All-Star Game.

Parise and Suter both represented the United States at the 2010 Vancouver (B.C.) Olympics.

“It’s fun to watch,” Cullen said of them. “They’re both so good in their own way. It’s going to be fun for the fans to see these guys play. They’re extremely hard workers. It’s fun to have guys like that.”

The lockout may keep fans in some markets from embracing the NHL’s return, but expectations are as high as they’ve ever been in St. Paul.

Cullen said he expects that tonight’s intrasquad scrimmage at Xcel Energy Center will be a “packed house.” Team officials are anticipating a sellout for Saturday’s regular-season opener at home against Colorado.

Cullen said the only thing players can control is what they do on the ice. But he said fan support in the Twin Cities has been unreal.

“The sooner we can get back to playing and winning games, the faster the fans will come back,” Cullen said. “For sure there will be some quiet buildings some nights in the South. That’s expected. … But I think here we’ll have great fan support.”

Cullen, 36, said he “quite possibly” has never been this excited for a season opener due to the team’s potential and the long wait for the start of the season.

“I’ve played for a long time and understand you don’t always get opportunities to play on great teams very often,” said Cullen, a veteran of 14 NHL seasons. “It’s an exciting time. That’s for sure.”

Readers can reach Forum Assistant Sports Editor Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558