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Matt Cullen's faith-filled, 21-season journey through the NHL comes to an end

Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen on Wednesday announced his decision to retire in a lengthy article posted on the Penguins’ official website. Cullen, 42, spent 21 seasons in the NHL with eight different franchises and helped his teams to three Stanley Cup titles — one with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and two with the Penguins in ’16 and ’17.

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“(Retirement is) an emotional time,” Cullen said in the article, “but I knew it was coming. It just felt right and I was really at peace with everything when it was over. … I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. More than anything I’m just so appreciative of everybody that helped me along the way.”

Former teammates and others associated with hockey reached out on social media to congratulate Cullen on a truly astounding career:

Widely respected around the NHL, Cullen said he doesn’t need to be remembered for his three championships or his longevity at hockey’s highest level, hoping only that he be remembered for making people’s lives better. And when tough decisions arose about where to play, he trusted in God and His perfect plan.

“I think you’re given certain opportunities in life and if you’re willing to take a risk and throw yourself in all the way, then special things can happen,” Cullen said. “For me, that was the case. We leaned on our faith a lot and took leaps of faith. Thank God we took those chances and opportunities where He was sending us.”

The Virginia, Minn., native has been on the ice for basically his whole life. Some of his best childhood memories are playing hockey with his dad and brothers in an outdoor hockey rink behind their house. All that practice translated nicely into formal competition. He performed well enough to be named the Associated Press Minnesota Player of Year in 1995.

After two seasons at St. Cloud State University, the Anaheim Ducks selected him in the second round with the 35th overall pick in the 1996 draft. He made his NHL debut with the Ducks in 1997.

Cullen amassed 266 goals and 465 assists during the regular season throughout his career, and added another 19 goals and 39 assists in postseason play. Yet he is perhaps best known for his durability for more than two decades in the league. He played in 1,516 regular-season games and another 132 in the postseason.

Now in retirement, he will trade in thousands of screaming NHL fans for quiet Minnesota evenings on an outdoor ice rink like the one he grew up playing on. Only this time, it will be Cullen teaching his three sons what hockey is all about.

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