CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy -- Matt Cullen is biding his time during the NHL lockout by leading the Italian league in scoring.
"What got me excited about coming over here was playing in the
world championships in Prague," said Cullen, who was a member of
the U.S. bronze medal team in May. "I really liked the open style
of play, so as soon as the lockout began I knew I wanted to come
back over here."
Seeking its first championship in 30 years, Cortina leads the
10-team Italian league with 47 points, two more than the Milano
The team plays in the wooden arena built for the 1956 Winter
"The ice is much bigger, Olympic size, so it's much more of an
open game," he said. "It's fun to play, it's such a skill game,
there's not all that pushing and hitting like the NHL.
"It's a big difference, but the Italian league is very
competitive, especially this year with all the American players
coming over," said Cullen, who estimated that about 20 NHL players
are now in Italy.
Cullen earned $1.75 million with the Florida Panthers last
season before signing with the Carolina Hurricanes just before the
lockout began. Now the 28-year-old Minnesota native gets $7,930 per
month playing for a non-profit team.
Cullen, a fan favorite, has extended his cancer fund-raising
efforts to his new home. He and his wife, who began the Cullen
Children's Foundation two years ago to raise money for children
with cancer and disabilities, organized a benefit concert in
Cortina last month and donated the money to a local charity.
Though he wants the lockout to end soon, Cullen hopes he will be
back in Italy next winter for the 2006 Turin Olympics. For now,
he's comfortable in Cortina, one of the most popular ski resorts in
"I could never learn to ski because I'm always playing hockey
in the winter," he said. "I'm really happy here. It's one of the
most beautiful places in the world. It's fun to be part of a
winning team here."