For former NHL veteran Matt Cullen, staying busy 'hasn't been a problem' in hockey retirement
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Matt Cullen retired from professional hockey about a year ago after a National Hockey League career that spanned 21 years, but the Moorhead High School graduate remains plenty engaged with the sport.
That involvement hasn’t allowed Cullen to dwell on leaving the pro game where he was a three-time Stanley Cup champion and played 1,648 NHL games.
“It helps a ton. It’s not an easy transition and I’ve heard that from just about every guy I’ve played with, they talk about how you’ve got to find something to do,” Cullen said. “That hasn’t been a problem for me.”
Cullen was in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Tuesday, July 21, at the SCHEELS IcePlex where he was helping with instruction for multiple hockey clinics.
“This is what I like,” Cullen said. “I love being on the ice with the kids.”
The 43-year-old Cullen has also remained connected with the pro game, too, as he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins organization in a player development role last summer soon after his retirement.
Before the NHL season was disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cullen said he traveled to Pittsburgh and spent about a week each month to help with player development and serve as an advisor to the coaching staff.
“I’ve enjoyed that and I’ve enjoyed learning the other side of the game with the Penguins, kind of going back-and-forth to Pittsburgh,” Cullen said. “It’s interesting. I put my whole life into the game of hockey. To be able to stay in it at that level and kind of try to learn from them, but also share with some of the players, it’s been actually really good.”
With the NHL season set to restart soon and the postseason slated to begin Aug. 1, Cullen said he will help the Penguins more from his south Moorhead home. It’s been the best of both worlds for Cullen: He's been able to connect with the pro game while still being able to spend time at home with wife Bridget and their three boys, Brooks, 13, Wyatt, 11, and Joey, 10.
“I appreciate the ability to feel it out and try it out, but also be able to be home,” Cullen said of his opportunity with the Penguins. “That’s kind of why I retired was to be at home and be part of the kids’ lives, and they’re at ages where it’s really fun to be a part of it.”
Cullen said Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford played a key role in Cullen landing a job with Pittsburgh after his playing career. Cullen played for the Anaheim Ducks, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Penguins during his NHL career.
Cullen said his new role with the Penguins is a chance for him to see if working in management or coaching would be something he wants to do long term.
“To me it was a cool opportunity to stay involved in the game and to learn from Jim, who’s a Hall of Fame general manager,” Cullen said. “It’s helped me transition from playing to whatever the future holds. It’s been a great fit.”
In the short term, Cullen is grateful to get to spend more time with his family and also watch his sons develop as hockey players.
“My kids are really into the game so it’s fun to be around it with them and to be able to share it with them,” he said. “I missed out on a lot of that playing over the years so it’s fun to be able to be there.”
Cullen said he built an outdoor hockey rink in his backyard this past winter to combine family time with hockey.
After retiring, Cullen said he had to remind himself that his meticulous offseason training, during his playing days, was no longer needed. Even with the NHL postseason set to start, he's at peace with his decision.
“At the beginning I found myself trying to fit in a workout every day and then it was like you don’t have to workout anymore,” he said. “The playoffs are the time where you really get the itch to come back and play, but that ship has sailed. I’m really happy to be home.”