When the Edmonton Road Runners and Houston Aeros clash this weekend in a two-game series, there will be more than points on the line. For Joe and Mark Cullen, there will also be bragging rights up for grabs, and who knows which might be more important for them at the moment.
The hockey careers of the two brothers have been intertwined since their high school days and carried on through three years together at Colorado College, but this weekend will be the first time the pair has skated against each other. In fact, none of the three Cullen brothers, including the eldest Matt of the Florida Panthers, have ever faced off against one of their own.
“I’ve definitely been looking forward to it. It’s the first time ever I’ll get to play against him so it will be a good time,” smiled Joe, who has had October 29th circled on his calendar since the schedule was first released. “We get to play against him four times this year so it’ll be awesome. We’re both centers so it’ll be a battle out there for sure, just like in the summer!”
“I’m excited to see him and spend some time with him,” said Mark who celebrates his 26th birthday today (October 28th). “I’m sure I’ll be taking some draws against him so we’ll have to be placing a little wager on faceoffs or something.”
The occasion is momentous enough for the Cullen family that the boys’ parents and little sister are expected to make the trek North of the border to bare witness. While the brothers have not collided on the ice before, as in any house full of boys there has been a lifetime of rivalry in the home and that hasn’t changed as the boys have grown to men.
Each of the last four summers, the Cullen boys have gathered at Matt’s home in Fargo North Dakota, not far from Moorhead, Minnesota where they grew up. The offseason is spent playing basketball and tennis. You can’t take the boy out of the man so inevitably the competitiveness comes through.
“You could say that,” laughed Mark. “There are lots of near fights and shoving matches so I would say it’s competitive.”
Other than those sporadic outbursts, the Cullens have always been a tight knit group, so much so that the younger boys’ college careers were almost carbon copies of each other. Although Matt played at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, Mark chose Colorado and little brother Joe followed suit a year later.
“Joe and I are both outdoorsmen kind of guys; we like to fish and hunt,” Mark explained. “I really liked the idea of getting out of Minnesota for a while and seeing what else was out there.”
“All three of us are pretty similar and my freshman year was great and since he knew it was a good fit for me, Joe knew it would be a good fit for him too,” Mark explained. “We’re really close, we always have been, and it was really a lot of fun to get to play with him for three years.”
“I had a couple of other schools to choose from but it was basically hands down that I wanted to go to (Colorado) because Mark told me how great a place it was and I knew that if he loved it then I would too,” echoed 23-year-old Joe.
While the brothers might have similarities away from the rink, they are quite different on the ice. They are both centers but Houston’s Cullen is a smaller and more offensive minded player than the Road Runner who excels in checking role while still being able to contribute to the score sheet.
“I’m not quite as quick as (Mark),” Joe described. “In Houston that’s really Mark’s game especially in the offensive zone where he likes to handle the puck.”
The likelihood exists that the brothers will see a lot of each other during the course of the two games so fans might wonder which Cullen is the best. When it comes to comparisons, the older brother gracefully gives the nod to Joe.
“Out of all of us brothers, Joe’s the one who has improved the most over the last few years,” Mark began. “He’s just really matured and has grown into a good player; I’ve been impressed with his work ethic in the summer and I think the future is going to be bright for him. He’s still young and I think his style of game is suited for the NHL more than mine is right now.
“I think the future holds good things for Joe.”
As if a kid brother ever needed a good reason to look up to an older one, Joe can point towards Mark’s successful fight against skin cancer last year as just another reason for adoring respect. Discovered very early in the 2003-04 campaign, Mark overcame the illness after a short stint away from hockey.
“It was scary last year right during Minnesota’s training camp but everything seems to have cleared up.”
Ongoing regular tests are coming back with good news so the Cullens can get back to concentrating on the important things like the game and weddings. Just don’t ask them which one is going to tie the knot first.
“I hear he’s going to be the next one to get married,” smiled Joe recently.
“Oh, I don’t know about that!” Mark fired back. “Ask him who has a girlfriend living with him because it’s not me! Joey’s done, he’s a write off now!”
Whoever said sibling rivalries were a bad thing? By the sounds of it, the Cullens are reveling at the thought of this weekend.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.