Jassen Cullimore has played his way back into the NHL.
New-age fans may not recognize that name but the diehards certainly will. Cullimore played two seasons for the Hawks (2005-2007) right after the lockout. Then it was on to Florida, but after the 2008-2009 campaign he couldn’t find an NHL job. In the league since 1994, he decided to start over again in the minors, in Rockford. A year later he’s back in the league and contributing for the defending Stanley Cup champs.
“It’s been a little nerve racking,” Cullimore admitted after practice on Tuesday. “Being out of the league for a year and then coming in, you start over thinking things a little bit but you just have to take it shift-by-shift game-by-game. There is a great bunch of guys here and I feel welcome and there is a certain amount of comfort level knowing some of the guys and some of the staff.”
Cullimore knew Duncan Keith before he was a Norris winner, and Brent Seabrook before he was an Olympian, and Patrick Sharp before he was a 30-goal scorer. Their paths crossed when those players were rookies in 2005 or, for Sharp, brand new to the organization.
“They probably wouldn’t like hearing this but it’s kind of like watching your kids grow up,” Cullimore joked, “although they might be young enough to be my kids.”
But it’s the crowd that’s most different this time around for Cullimore. He was here, just as those rookies and Sharp were, when the players could actually hear each other from the bench to the ice. Not so, anymore.
“It feels good,” Cullimore said. “Being here as opposed to when I was here the last time. The crowd is a little louder. There’s a lot of support.
“It’s a little different having the crowd behind you like that. It gives you goose bumps to hear them cheer like that after a win.”
Some of the cheers from the last win were no doubt directed at Cullimore. He made the key play -- going behind the Blues' net and getting the puck to Patrick Kane -- in the sequence that led to the winning goal against St. Louis on Monday night.
“It always feels good to chip in, in overtime,” Cullimore said. “You go 15 years without making a play like that and then they don’t expect it from you.”
Cullimore, who turns 38 in December, is a little slower of foot these days but professes to actually be quicker than his year in the minors a season ago.
Either way, he says it’s about where to be, more than how fast you get there.
“It’s positioning, and experience comes into play,” Cullimore explained. “It’s second nature knowing where to be and where other players are going to be. You draw on everything when you’re playing.”
Cullimore says young defensemen, coming up in the minors, tend to be a little “scrambly” with their positioning. Maybe that’s why he started a hockey academy for when his playing days are over.
“We did two weeks this past summer and we’re looking to do more this summer,” Cullimore said.
(Go to proedgehockeyacademy.com for more information.)
For now, Cullimore is just happy to be back in the NHL, even if his former rookie friends are now big stars.
“I have to undo their skates and tape their sticks,” Cullimore joked.