St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Lightning

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Cullen glad to come back

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2002

TAMPA -- The extent of John Cullen's life in hockey these days is watching the Lightning on pay-per-view from his home in Atlanta. That made his visit to the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday something special.

Cullen, whose four-season stint with the Lightning included a successful fight with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, participated in an old-timers tournament sponsored by the Lightning alumni association.

"I feel great," said Cullen, who works as a sales manager at his brother's automobile dealership. "Coming back to this area, it's hard to believe it's been five years since all my treatment."

Cullen, who also was an assistant coach, said a recent checkup showed he remains free of cancer. He was diagnosed in March of 1997 and returned to play four games for the Lightning after missing the 1997-98 season while receiving chemotherapy treatments.

"This is fun," he said. "Hockey players are known for the stories they can tell, and even though it's been a few years away, it's fun to be back with the people you sweated and battled with."

They included former Lightning players Daren Puppa, Paul Ysebaert and John Tucker.

MY BAD: Lightning coach John Tortorella does not worry about goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, even when his All-Star is enduring a tough stretch like recently, when he allowed 11 goals in losing three of four decisions.

"We need big saves from Nik," Tortorella said. "Have we been getting them consistently lately? He'll tell you, no. But Nik is accountable. That's one thing you say about this guy.

" ... Nik knows exactly where he stands. You feel good about him because you know he will be there and will do what he needs to do for this hockey club."

JUST LUCKY: Defenseman Dan Boyle said there was no mystic formula to his recent hot streak, in which he had three goals in two games. The key, he said, was being in the right place.

"Really, it's just about getting the bounces," he said. "The goal against Montreal, it came right to me. A month ago it probably went in the corner."

ODDS AND ENDS: Center Vinny Lecavalier and Kane's Furniture will donate $1,000 to All Children's Hospital for every goal, and $300 for every assist Lecavalier gets at home the rest of the season. ... Defenseman Pavel Kubina returned after missing the Lightning's 3-2 win Thursday in Montreal with a bone bruise in his foot. ... Center Brian Holzinger, on a rehabilitation assignment in Springfield, right wing Jimmie Olvestad and defenseman Darren Rumble were scratched.

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