Cullen leads Italian league in scoring

Updated: January 15, 2005, 1:18 PM ET
Associated Press

CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy -- Matt Cullen is biding his time during the NHL lockout by leading the Italian league in scoring.

The former center for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Florida Panthers signed with Cortina in September after the NHL lockout began and has 45 points and 22 goals, both tops in the league, in 28 games.

"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 Vipers.

The team plays in the wooden arena built for the 1956 Winter Olympics.

"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 Italy.

"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."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press