Chris Culligan in action for Cardiff Devils. Pic: Richard Murray.
Canadian Chris Culligan, a hugely talented and versatile ice hockey professional, has called a halt to his playing career.
Culligan signs off on a high after helping Cardiff Devils win five trophies over the last three seasons.
The man from Nova Scotia is a natural centreman, but also has the remarkable ability to switch from offence to defence and produce top quality performances.
Devils owe their former goaltender Dan La Costa a huge debt of gratitude for pointing first year pro ’Culli’ in their direction three years ago.
Culligan decided to sign for Devils after La Costa told him ‘Go for it’ and he says: “I’ve loved every minute here.”
The two men were fellow students at University of New Brunswick and they talked when Culligan pondered where to start his pro career.
He played a few matches for Texas Stars in the American League and East Coast League club Gwinnett Gladiators during that final year at uni, while he then headed to Cardiff after graduating.
“When I first messaged Dan he wasn’t exactly pushing me into signing for Devils, but when the ownership changed he sent another message and said I should consider it,” says Culligan.
The 28-year-old scored 68 points (24 goals, 44 assists) in 129 regular season matches and says of his friendship with La Costa: “Dan and I were at university together in Canada before he came to Cardiff.
“When he was playing for Devils I was doing my last year at school.
“Dan was close with Lordo (Andrew Lord) and once the new owners came in he said I should consider it then.
“He knew what a good job Lordo would do as player-coach and played a big part in me coming here.”
Culligan scored one of the best goals seen at the Big Blue Tent during Cardiff’s Challenge Cup semi-final win against Coventry Blaze.
He netted after being barged over from behind by a defenceman and said: “Lordo made a flick which sent the puck high and it was a good play to get it to land just inside the zone.
“My first thought was to make sure I was onside at first and then took it to my backhand.
“A Blaze guy caught up with me pretty fast, getting between me and the net. I just kept spinning, aiming to keep him away from the puck.
“I don’t know if it I was shoved down or not, but I went down. My thought then was to keep rotating my upper body and swung at the puck with my stick.
“It was a desperate play while lying on the ice and thankfully it went in.”
Culligan’s decision to end his playing career has been a shock for Devils fans. He had signed a contract to play through 2017-18 before going home to Canada, but contacted Lord to say he has an opportunity outside hockey.
“We signed Chris for next season before he went home at the end of April, so we obviously were looking forward to having him back for another year,” says Todd Kelman.
“But he got in touch with us last week to let us know that he wanted to pursue an opportunity that has come up back home.
“We love Culli, he was a big part of our team for the past 3 years and he has been a part of a lot of special moments for the Devils. We wish him well for whatever he decides to do next.
“The Devils would like to thank Chris for three memorable years and for being a huge part of the five titles we have won together.”
Culligan was voted Player’s Player of the Year by his teammates last season, an award which underlines his ‘team first’ mentality.
The statement issued by Culligan announcing his retirement said: “I’ve come to the decision that the time is right to call it a career.
“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some incredible organisations that were made that way by the vast amount of good people involved.
“Thank you to all of this people for enabling me to look back on my playing days with happiness and fulfilment.
“I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I have experienced.
“Thank you to everybody involved with Cardiff Devils from top to bottom. I have been treated so well there for the last three years and I can only hope my appreciation showed in my play.”
The seven players to have signed for Devils so far are Lord, Sean Bentivoglio, newcomer Craig Moore, who has moved from Dundee Stars to South Wales, plus Joey Martin, Joey Haddad, Mark Richardson and Ben Bowns.
Cardiff start their fixtures on Saturday, August 12 with an Aladdin Cup clash with Nottingham Panthers away (7pm). The same teams clash in a pre-season challenge match at Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff Bay the next evening (6pm).
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