MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Matt Cullen had already spent more than three hours posing for photos with the Stanley Cup inside Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena on Saturday when, after taking a brief break for a bite to eat, he stepped outside to see a line of hundreds more fans that snaked around the building.
Carrying the 35-pound trophy, he just shrugged his shoulders, smiled and headed for the tent set up in the parking lot. This is exactly what Cullen, who grew up playing hockey in Moorhead and lives in the area in the offseason, had in mind when he planned his day with the Stanley Cup after winning it with the Pittsburgh Penguins in June.
"It's kind of special to bring the Cup back here and see the way that everybody reacts to it and how much it means to them," the 39-year-old said. "So, for me, it's been a busy day, it's been a lot of photos, but it's been fun."
This was Cullen's second time with the Stanley Cup in Moorhead. He also brought it here after he won it with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Back then, he and wife Bridget were expecting their first child. Now, they have three sons -- Brooks, 9; Wyatt, 7; Joey, 6 -- and they were right in the middle of the excitement.
The entire family was there when the Stanley Cup arrived at the airport in Fargo, N.D. on Friday. They drank root beer and Kool-Aid from it while riding in the back of a limousine during the hour-long drive to a private party in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
After waking up Saturday morning, the Cullens took the Stanley Cup down to the dock and ate Lucky Charms from the bowl for breakfast.
"I can't even put into words how awesome it's been to be able to go through this whole experience with the boys," Matt said. "They make it so much more fun for me, their excitement. Just watching them live and die with every game we played in the playoffs and then to see their faces when they're eating Lucky Charms out of the Cup and drinking root beer out of it, I feel pretty lucky as a dad to be able to do that with my boys."
Cullen spent the rest of Saturday sharing the Stanley Cup with his hometown. Dennis Bushy, the rink manager at Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena, coached Cullen when he played at the bantam level and has fond memories of when he brought the Cup to the arena in 2006.
"He came to the back door in a limousine and came out of the limousine and handed me the Cup and I got to hoist it," Bushy said. "He's here every summer. He works out here. He skates in the afternoon here. Good guy. Great guy. You don't find many of those guys around."
Cullen arrived a little before 1 p.m. and spent the next hour posing for pictures with the Cup with members the Cullen Children's Foundation, aka "Cully's Kids." Matt and Bridget Cullen founded Cully's Kids in 2003 to support the health care needs of children with a particular emphasis on those with cancer.
"We started our foundation 12 years ago, so we know all the kids, and just knowing how excited they are for us and getting to share that with them is special," Bridget said.
After completing the private session, Matt brought the Cup to the arena's South Rink to take a group photo with players from the Moorhead Youth Hockey Association. While there, Del Rae Williams, Mayor of the City of Moorhead, read a proclamation declaring July 30 "Matt Cullen Day."
Then it was back to the North Rink for another two hours-plus of taking photos with the young players. Following a short meal break, Cullen posed for some photos with the Stanley Cup and a 1936 Rolls Royce from Bonanzaville's Eugene Dahl Car Museum in nearby West Fargo, N.D.
The car was owned by Edward Stanley, whose father, Frederick, donated what would become known as the Stanley Cup in 1892 as a trophy to be awarded Canada's top amateur team. The Cup became property of the NHL in 1917.
After checking out the "Stanley Car," Cullen headed to the tent and a lengthy line of fans that had been building throughout the afternoon. He planned to wrap up the day with a quiet dinner with a small group of family and close friends at a nearby restaurant.
"Realistically, this is kind of the first time I've been able to take a little bit of time and sit back and through other people's eyes see how important it was and what a big deal it was and just how special it is," Matt Cullen said. "So, it's been fun."
Cullen, who will turn 40 on Nov. 2, was considering retirement when the Penguins signed him to a one-year contract last summer. Now, he plans to play another season but remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent. A return to Pittsburgh remains possible. A second stint with the home state Minnesota Wild might be an option.
"We're just taking the weekend and enjoying it for everything that it is and appreciating everything," Cullen said. "We'll get back to figuring out contract stuff and figuring out next year in the upcoming weeks."
Cullen knows he might not have another day like this one, so he tried to enjoy every minute.
"When I think back to 10 years ago, it was a blur," he said. "Everything went so fast. It was the first time and it was awesome and it was really cool, but it was just a total blur. So, this time around, I think I've been able to take a little more time and take everything in and appreciate it for what it is. I know how fortunate and blessed I am to be here with the Cup. This is a special place. Moorhead's home for me, so it's so nice to be able to bring it home."