Cullen's day with the Stanley Cup shared with thousands across the Fargo-Moorhead area
MOORHEAD, Minn.—Normally, Thursdays would be spent taking medication at Sanford Children's hospital in Fargo for 4-year-old Knox Olafson. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, on April 28.
In order to remove the tumor in his left knee, Olafson underwent a rotationplasty in which his left knee was removed and his leg was rotated 180 degrees in order for his ankle joint to be used as his knee joint. A prosthetic leg will eventually be added to his left leg when his bones heal to even things out. He's considered cancer-free, but has nine more chemotherapy treatments to go through.
So Olafson generally spends his Thursdays in a wheelchair, walker or scooting around on his backside, lugging his IV tower along with him before he, his mom, Christy, and his nine-month-old sister Lennon, drive back to Warroad, Minn.
On Thursday, Aug. 31, there was a wrinkle in Knox's schedule. The Stanley Cup came to visit him and the rest of the children at the hospital. For a brief moment, a place no one wants to be felt bright.
"For us, it was something to look forward to, another thing to cross off, as we are getting toward the end of our journey," Christy said. "Just a complete day brightener, something that not everybody gets the chance to do."
At the Moorhead Dairy Queen on Thursday, Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams declared it to be "Matt Cullen Day." Despite the name, the day did not belong to Matt Cullen. The former Moorhead hockey standout and current Minnesota Wild center made his day with the Stanley Cup about everyone else.
"We just try to have fun with it and bring it to as many people and places we can," Cullen said. "It's not really about me or taking advantage of my time. It's more about bringing it to the community and the kids especially. Seeing the smiles on their face, that makes it worthwhile and makes it fun."
After his three sons ate Fruit Loops out of the Stanley Cup on Thursday morning, the Cullen family brought the Cup to Sanford Children's Hospital into Cully's Kids Cabin, a room created with a $1 million donation from the Cullen's foundation. After filling it with donuts and walking it around the room for kids, they took it to each room in the children's hospital.
"We've benefitted from the Cullen's Children's Foundation for lodging and things in the past," Christy said with tears in her eyes. "It's kind of monumental to just be in the same room with them, and he's just treating us like we know them, like we're friends."
Sammy Martin is almost in remission after a year-and-a-half fight with juvenile dermatomyositis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the muscles. The 16-year-old Fargo native was in so much pain she couldn't roll over in bed at times. She knows what the Cullens bringing the Stanley Cup means to the kids.
"This gives kids a sense of home in the hospital," Martin said. "They can escape from their everyday sickness almost. You see them smile, and it's just a place to get away from the outside world."
When planning their day with the Cup, the trip to the children's hospital was never in question for the Cullens.
"Just happiness and awe, the kids just really forgetting what they were going through and being able to enjoy this moment." said Bridget, Matt's wife, describing the look on the faces of the kids. "I think this was just the obvious choice."
The Cullens spent about two hours at the children's hospital before heading out to Newman Outdoor Field to throw out the first pitch before Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks baseball team took on Lincoln. Matt threw on a RedHawks jersey and signed anything for anyone that came his way.
"Wild Thing" played over the speakers, as Matt and the Cup were introduced to the crowd. Matt's dad, Terry, joked in the tunnel that he wanted to see if Matt could still throw, but Matt let his youngest son, Joey, throw out the first pitch.
From there, the Cullens crossed state lines with the Cup, bringing it to the downtown Moorhead Dairy Queen, where people like lifelong Pittsburgh Penguins fan Curtis Berg, 52, had been waiting since 4 a.m.
"To have the Stanley Cup come this close within my grasp, to actually touch it, I wasn't going to let that slip away." Berg said. "I can't put it into words how excited I am to finally get to do something I've wanted to do for so many years."
Cullen stood for three hours, taking pictures, holding babies and signing autographs, as hundreds and hundreds of people got in line throughout the day. He tacked on an additional 20 minutes, as the line never seemed to stop. After eating a Snickers Blizzard out of the Stanley Cup, Cullen invited all the kids in the crowd to grab a spoon and have a taste. He walked the Cup through the people that couldn't get to the front of the line in time, so they had a chance to experience it.
In between a family dinner and a party with friends, the Cullens and the Cup surprised baseball practices at Miracle Field in Moorhead. Kids from Hope Inc., a nonprofit organization that specializes in improving the lives of children and adults with mobility challenges, were practicing on Thursday. The Cullens kept that trip a secret.
Things seemed a bit brighter around the Fargo-Moorhead area Thursday. The Cullens added a shiny, 34½ -pound wrinkle to the day for thousands.
Engraved three times in the Stanley Cup is Matt Cullen's name, but on Thursday the Cullen family made the entire area feel like champions.
"Obviously, you never dream of having it this many times," Cullen said. "To be able to bring it home and share it here at the hospital and with the community that raised me is extra special.
I don't know that you can compare any of them. Every time is unique and you try to ... if you can share it and make an impact on somebody and brighten their day I think that's kind of cool. It's just fun to see how people respond to the Cup. It's such a special thing and it's fun to see how they react, a lot of big smiles."