The Masterton Award is given annually to the NHL player who best demonstrates sportsmanship, perseverance, and a dedication to the sport of hockey.
This season, the Penguins’ nominee is a perfection representation of that definition. He is also one of their alternate captains and most prominent, veteran leaders: 42-year-old and three-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Cullen.
“I’m honored,” Cullen said. “I don’t feel like I’m really deserving of it. There’s a lot of guys who are really deserving. There are so many great stories in our league, whether it’s coming back or being around for a long time or some guys who don’t get their shot until they’re 30. There are so many good stories of good people who work hard and persevere to get to here. For me, I’m honored to be in that group.”
Now playing in his 21st (!) professional season, Cullen has been the typical “glue guy” cliché for the Penguins. His veteran experience and locker room presence has been extremely helpful towards mentoring younger players who are new to both the Pittsburgh organization and the NHL level. Oh, and he’s still racking up points.
Cullen has predominantly played as the Penguins’ fourth-line center and has also been effective on the penalty kill. Currently, he has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 66 games played, including this beauty from the Penguins’ most recent tilt with the Rangers:
Dad put it where Mom keeps the cookies: top shelf. pic.twitter.com/C0YsqY1zTb— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 26, 2019
“The biggest thing is I love to play the game,” Cullen said. “Everybody takes care of their nutrition and trains and I’ve done that throughout my career, but I really enjoy the competition. I love the battle. I love this time of the year. It’s worth working out and training and battling to get down to this point of the season where games really mean a lot and every play is important. To me, that’s the biggest thing.”
Cullen has crafted an incredible career with eight different franchises (Anaheim, Florida, Carolina, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Minnesota, Nashville, and Pittsburgh), and it was recently capped off with a celebration of his 1,500th NHL game.
The fact that he has managed to morph his game and master his health to still perform at this level is a true testament to his commitment to longevity and playing hockey. He just loves the game. Mike Sullivan often calls Cullen an extension of the Penguins’ coaching staff, and has constantly applauded him for being the quintessential professional.
“When you get nominated for any award in this league, it’s an honor,” Cullen said. “I don’t know all the nominees, but I can probably think of a few. And when you look at all those guys, those are guys that everybody wants on their team.”