By Brian Compton
After four years of fighting both injuries and opponents, Brandon Cullen nearly made the jump that every ECHL player dreams about.
After playing parts of the past four seasons with the Charlotte Checkers, Cullen received an invitation to try out with the New York Islanders for the 2006-07 season. That tryout nearly had him on a flight to Phoenix, where the Islanders opened the season.
Cullen, 25, was one of the final cuts made by Islanders head coach Ted Nolan Monday, but that doesn’t mean his goal of reaching the NHL is finished. Cullen was sent to the Isles’ American Hockey League affiliate in Bridgeport, where he will receive his second opportunity at the Triple-A level. Cullen appeared in 25 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2003-04, when he had two goals, one assist and a rugged 51 penalty minutes.
This time around, Cullen is hoping to be a mainstay at a higher level. And the 6-foot, 212-pound forward couldn’t be happier with the opportunity the Islanders and Sound Tigers have given him. After two years of shoulder problems, Cullen is injury-free and, hopefully, on the fast track to the NHL. For Islanders fans wondering what type of player Cullen is, think Kevin Colley — the rugged forward who made his way from the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies to the NHL the same way, only to suffer a career-ending neck injury last season after only 16 games.
“Things couldn’t have gone any better,” Cullen said of his training camp experience with the Islanders. “Everything just kept getting better each day. I came into a lucky situation with an organization that was looking for the type of player that I am. Things just went well and it’s a good fit.”
More than that, the chance Cullen has been presented is a clear sign that all the hard work and time spent with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers has paid off. Cullen was arguably Charlotte’s best power forward last season, as he racked up 14 goals, 25 assists and 150 penalty minutes in 51 games.