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Cullen of Wild ready for emotional game against Penguins

Center, who won Cup twice with Pittsburgh, will play them for first time since signing with Minnesota

by Jessi Pierce / NHLcom Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Center Matt Cullen has faced his former teams dozens of times throughout his 20-year NHL career but said it will be an entirely different experience when the Minnesota Wild host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; FS-N, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).

Cullen, 40, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Wild on Aug. 16, spent the past two seasons with the Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup in each. 

"I think it will be different on an emotional level," Cullen said Friday after practice. "I think there will be a lot more that goes into it. I've played a lot of old teams I've played for previously, but what we went through in Pittsburgh [was different].

Video: Wild looks toward facing Penguins

"Seeing those guys again after everything that went on the last couple years, it'll be fun, No. 1. On the hockey side of it, it's a challenge, just from an emotional standpoint. It'll be fun to go through it but there are challenges that come with that, too." 

Cullen had 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 72 games with Pittsburgh last season, and nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 25 Stanley Cup Playoff games. In 2015-16, he had 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists) in 82 games, and six points (four goals, two assists) in 24 playoff games.

Cullen admitted the biggest challenge will stem from the emotions not only his, but from his family. His three sons, Brooks, 10, Wyatt, 8 and Joey, 7, view many of the Penguins players as their uncles.

"It will be interesting to see what they're wearing for jerseys," Cullen said. "They had a pretty good setup in Pittsburgh and were at the rink an awful lot. 

"Pittsburgh was good to me and my family. It was a second home for us. Everyone was just awesome, and going through what we went through [winning the Stanley Cup twice], it was awfully hard to say goodbye, but I absolutely loved my experience there."

Cullen, a native of Virginia, Minnesota, considered retiring following the 2015-16 season, but signed a one-year contract with the Penguins. He also strongly considered retiring after last season before signing with Minnesota. His contract with the Wild -- he had 101 points (33 goals, 68 assists) in 193 games from 2011-13 with Minnesota -- comes with $700,000 in potential bonuses.

He said the decision to sign with Minnesota came down to what was best for his family, by "letting the kids plant some roots and settle down at home."

Cullen, who will host the majority of the Penguins at his home for dinner on Friday, said Saturday will be just another hockey game once he takes the ice.

"We had a couple special years there and [I have] a lot of good friends with a close bond," Cullen, who has one assist in eight games this season said. "But I just look at it as another game in the season. [Pittsburgh's] obviously a very good team so the on-ice thing, when the game starts, it's a game. When the puck drops we just focus on hockey." 

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