Wild makes Florida trip a family affair
SUNRISE, Fla. Wild center Matt Cullen ran around the carpet at home with skates on as a 2-year-old.
He also motored around outside on a backyard rink and battled with his two brothers and father, Terry, in the basement in a 2-on-2 competition.
Losers made the winners malts.
I still havent forgiven my youngest son for the day he traded me in for Matt, Terry said, because it was always the youngest one and me against Matt and his brother Mark. One day Joe, the young one, said, I think I want Matt on my team. I still havent forgiven him.
Terrys watched Matts entire journey those in-house games, the days at Moorhead High School where he coached Matt and eventually Matts time in the NHL as a three-time Stanley Cup champion.
And Friday and Saturday, hell get an even closer look at his sons career, as the Wild will be accompanied by family members and mentors during its final two stops on a four-game road trip before the team pauses for the holiday break.
This trip, I wouldnt miss it for anything, Terry said. I wouldnt.
Twenty-nine dads, brothers, sons and mentors plus an uncle and cousin joined the team in Florida, a get-together on the road the Wild plans every few years. Almost every player had someone in tow, and even some of the coaches and staff had a guest.
It gets a little more personal, said Henry Staal, Erics father. You watch [the players] on TV. You see them, but now you actually get to know them. So you know a little what theyre like off the ice, which is kind of neat.
Not only will the group take in Fridays game against the Panthers, but itll fly with the team to Tampa for the second half of a back-to-back Saturday. A Catamaran cruise and tour of a cigar factory are also on the itinerary.
For me, just being able to see Jason and hang with him is pretty cool, said Scott Zucker, Jasons father.
The group also took in Thursdays practice at BB T Center, watching from the seats as everyone participated.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk skated with the team for the first time since suffering a knee last Tuesday. He left the session early but impressed while he was on the ice, with coach Bruce Boudreau believing Dubnyks return after the break will be sooner than maybe the team initially thought.
I was really pleasantly surprised, Boudreau said. The way he was moving in that one drill I asked a player if that was Devan because you dont expect the first time the guys on the ice in 10 days or close to 10 days anyway that hes going to be that good.
Winger Zach Parise, whos still recovering from surgery on his back to alleviate pressure on a nerve that caused leg pain and weakness, continues to skate and although it remains unclear when hell be eligible to play, hes getting more involved in practice.
We just want to make sure this has been such a long, lingering injury not only for this year but for previous years that he plays when hes fully ready, Boudreau said. To us, an extra week, an extra four, five days, an extra few games, his value is going to be tremendous when he gets back. But we want him back right, and Im sure he wants to be back right.
Getting to Florida to prepare for its final two games before the leaguewide, three-day hiatus wasnt easy for the Wild.
Its plane had mechanical issues in Ottawa Tuesday night, so the team had to wait for another aircraft to arrive from Cleveland to shuttle it to Florida. The Wild didnt take off until 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Today I think its when it hits you a little bit more, Jason Zucker said. So Ill definitely be taking a nap today to get geared up for tomorrow.
Having those who guided the players throughout their lives in the crowd could also help.
Terry and Matt regularly chat hockey, a bond that hasnt wavered as Matt graduated through the ranks.
We still talk all the time about the game and about what happened in the game, Terry said. He loves the game, and he still wants to talk to me about the game and I feel very privileged by that that he involves me as much as he does.
It makes sense, though, that those conversations continue to happen and opportunities like this to share the experience together are organized.
After all, Terry was there from the beginning when dessert not contracts and championships was at stake.
Theyre all great memories, Matt Cullen said. Its where you fall in love with the game of hockey.