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Matt Cullen joins Fargo Force as minority owner

The Moorhead graduate and three-time Stanley Cup champion will become a minority owner of the organization and is expected to play a major role in shaping team values and player/coach development

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Matt Cullen talks Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, about his contributions to the Fargo Force.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

FARGO — Matt Cullen has joined the Fargo Force's ownership group, the team announced Wednesday.

Cullen is a Moorhead graduate who played 21 NHL seasons with eight teams and is a three-time Stanley Cup champion. He will assume a minority stake in the organization and will play a major role in shaping team values and player/coach development, the team said in a statement.

"With his NHL experience, (Cullen) brings a new and exciting perspective on off-ice training, nutrition and skill development," the statement said. "Bottom line, he knows firsthand what it takes for a player to be successful at the highest level and he brings invaluable knowledge and experience to our organization."

"For me, it provided a bunch of different opportunities," Cullen said. "This is home. The USHL and the Fargo Force — this league has probably become the top junior league in the world, and so it's kind of a cool opportunity for me to jump in and stay in the game close to home.

Cullen already wears many hats in the hockey community. Not only does he have a stake in the Cullen Force Academy, but he's also a coach and committee member within the Moorhead Youth Hockey Association, operates the Cullen Children's Foundation and is a player development coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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"When the opportunity came up and when I was asked if I wanted to get involved on the ownership side, I took some time (to think)," Cullen said. "Obviously, I have a lot of different irons in the fire, and so I wanted to be fair to everybody that I work with in Pittsburgh and also to be sure I could provide and put enough time into this to be fair to everybody here and make sure I was able to do my best with both.

"For me, the biggest thing is a new opportunity to experience something different in the game of hockey. I've been through a lot as a player and have never been through the management side or the ownership side and everything that comes with that."

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators
Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen (7) hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Nashville Predators in game six of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Before buying in, Cullen consulted NHL colleague Jim Rutherford, who currently serves as the president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks. Rutherford was the president of hockey ops for the Carolina Hurricanes during the team's 2006 Stanley Cup season, which Cullen was a part of, and went on to become the general manager of the Penguins from 2014 to 2021, where Cullen won two Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

"He's been a good friend and a good mentor," Cullen said of Rutherford. "When I reached out to him, he thought that this was just a great opportunity to kind of learn that side of the game and put yourself in a new position and kind of stretch yourself. There's some areas that I can improve on and learn about, and that's what this provides.

"So kind of all of that goes together to make a cool opportunity. And it's here. It's home."

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Cullen has already left his mark on the organization so far, spearheading weight room and locker room upgrades, which will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

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Part of the newly refurbished weight room is pictured Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Scheels Arena.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Those two initiatives play just a small role in the bigger picture of helping local hockey players develop and advance.

"The biggest piece is that I get to be involved with these kids," Cullen said. "We have young coaches who are also trying to develop as coaches. I think with just the experience that I've had in the game provides me a perspective that maybe I can help these guys develop as coaches in a way. I can help these players hopefully continue to develop as players by providing the right facilities and getting the right coaches around them. And then also just getting the opportunity to get on the ice with them and work with them.

"I've found that since I've finished playing, I've really enjoyed being on the ice with the kids. I coach my kids at home in Moorhead and I actually really enjoy that a lot, so this is another opportunity to get on the ice with some high-end kids, and hopefully give them a little something different or more than what they've previously learned and help them to get to where they want to go is the biggest thing."

The Force are coming off a 28-28-6 regular season in 2021-22 and a fifth-place finish in the USHL's Western Conference. The team lost to Omaha in the first round of the USHL playoffs and parted ways with former head coach Scott Langer in the offseason.

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Matt and Bridget Cullen look around the Cully's Kids Cabin in the new Sanford Children's Hospital for the first time Monday, June 19, 2017, in the new Sanford Medical Center Fargo. Two large photos on the wall show Cullen hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2006 and 2016. Dave Wallis / The Rink Live

Nick Oliver will be the new bench boss going into this season. The 31-year-old Roseau native played for the Force from 2009-11 and is a St. Cloud State alumnus like Cullen, who played for the Huskies from 1995-97.

With a new coaching staff on board, the new minority owner hopes to see results right off the bat. Perhaps more importantly, however, Cullen hopes he can help push the team to become a bigger part of the hockey community.

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"I'd like to see this become a little bit more of a bigger piece of the hockey culture in Fargo-Moorhead," Cullen said. "I think for whatever reason, maybe it's kind of stayed in the background a little bit. And if I weren't in the same camp, I probably wouldn't realize what a good level of hockey we have right here. These kids that you see coming through this building on our team and on the opposing teams, they'll be playing Division I hockey within a year or two, and a bunch of them will be playing in the NHL in a few years. So we have such a super high level of hockey coming through this arena on a nightly basis. Helping it to become a bigger part of the hockey culture in Fargo-Moorhead would be another goal here just because it's such a high level of hockey and it's continuing to develop into a top league."

Prior to reaching the NHL and college ranks, Cullen played three seasons for the Spuds hockey team from 1992-95, leading Moorhead to the state tournament three times and finishing as state runner-up twice in that span. He was named a Mr. Hockey finalist in 1995 and also was named Minnesota's Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

Cullen was selected 36th overall in the 1996 NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks and made his NHL debut in 1997. He retired from the NHL on July 10, 2019, and is one of just 21 players to play more than 1,500 games in his career, playing 1,516 over his 21 seasons.

Ryan Spitza joined The Forum in December 2021 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Marquette, Mich., a city of 20,000 on the southern shore of Lake Superior. He majored in multimedia journalism and minored in public relations at Northern Michigan University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in May 2019. While attending college, Spitza gained real-world experience covering high school and college athletics for both The Mining Journal and The North Wind.

Spitza can be reached at 701-451-5613 or rspitza@forumcomm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryspitza.
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