MOORHEAD-Former Moorhead Spuds hockey standout and Minnesota Wild center Matt Cullen said some of the best memories of his youth involved him on the ice with his father, Terry Cullen, at the Moorhead Youth Hockey Association arena.
Those hours spent at the arena were part of the hockey foundation for Matt, who has gone on to have a successful pro career. The 41-year-old signed earlier this summer with the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 21st NHL season.
"It will be fun to see it come full circle," said Matt, who has three sons. "I was out on the ice sheet with my dad a long time ago. Now it's my opportunity to be out with my kids."
Matt stood in front of the arena, which has been re-named the "Cullen Hockey Center," during Monday's groundbreaking ceremonies for Phase II of a projected $8 million renovation and upgrade for the facility. The second phase includes adding a third ice sheet.
"It's pretty special for my whole family. We've spent a lot of time here over the years," Matt said. "It's nice to finally be at the point where we can upgrade it and make it a premier facility. We have a program that we feel is as good as basically anyone's so it will be nice to have to match it."
Terry Cullen, a Hall of Fame and former Spuds head coach, was also at the groundbreaking that also included some of the projects key local donors, including Scheels, Sanford Health and First International Bank and Trust. The Cullen family is a lead donor.
"What a great day for our kids," Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams told the crowd at the ceremony.
One of the ice sheets at the facility has been named after longtime rink manager Dennis Bushy, who has been involved with Moorhead hockey for 40-plus years.
"I was so happy for Dennis," Matt said. "I really believe he's the heartbeat of this whole program. He makes every kid's experience special."
Bushy said he was honored and humbled after he learned one of the ice sheets was going to be named after him.
"I couldn't believe it. They didn't need to do it," Bushy said. "It was a great honor. There are so many other people that are as deserving or more, but it's nice. ... The 40-plus years I've been here, there hasn't been a day that I haven't wanted to either coach or come to work. Every day I wake up, I look forward to coming to work, and I don't think a lot of guys can say that."
Matt Cullen, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, signed with the Penguins in July. Cullen won two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017 before playing with the Minnesota Wild this past season. He ended last season as the oldest player in the NHL.
"(Pittsburgh) was a special place for us. We had two great years there," Matt said. "For me it was a way to finish off in a place that was awesome for us. ... I really loved my time in Pittsburgh, so I'm excited to go back. It reminds me a lot of home."
That's why the Moorhead youth arena, which is now named after his family, holds a special place for Matt Cullen.
"This is where I do all my training, all my behind-the-scenes work to get ready for the next season. A lot of great memories here," he said. "This for me is where it all gets back to, because this is where the work is done."