Trent Cull was sitting at his home in Syracuse, New York, pondering his future in the summer of 2004. He was 30 years old and retired.
Since he first laced-up a pair of skates at the age of five and started playing hockey, the game was a big part of his life. He played minor hockey in his hometown of Georgetown before graduating to the Ontario Hockey League, and then turned professional to play in the United States in the American Hockey League and the International Hockey League as a defenceman.
Cull had mixed feelings about leaving the game of hockey after a 10-year professional career. He loved the sport and it had given him so much including the chance to meet his wife, Marcia. Cull thought about becoming a firefighter and even completed some courses. He also considered becoming a teacher.
Then the phone rang. It was Dave Barr, the head coach and general manager of the Guelph Storm (OHL) and one of Cull’s former coaches from Houston in the IHL. Barr offered Cull a job as an assistant coach with Guelph. He was still in the game.
“I wasn’t getting any better and my body was breaking down,” Cull said. “I had retired and wondered what I was going to do when Dave Barr called me out-of-the-blue and offered me a coaching job. He said I would be the perfect fit. At first I said I couldn’t do it. There were a lot of factors. He convinced me it would be a great opportunity so I said OK. I owe Dave for the opportunity. It was the change I needed.”
Cull spent two seasons in Guelph before moving back to Syracuse to become assistant coach with the Syracuse Crunch in 2006. In the spring of 2010, Cull was named the head coach of the Sudbury Wolves.
When his appointment was announced, Cull told the Syracuse newspaper, The Post Standard, “I think it’s a great opportunity. They are pretty hungry for a winner.”
The lessons Cull learned growing up as the youngest of four brothers in a working-class family are firmly entrenched. Cull values work ethic, honesty and respect. These were values driven into him at a young age by his father, Henry, a truck driver and hockey coach who supported the family and his mother, Gloria, a woman who raised her sons, and then went back to school and earned a master’s degree and became a teacher.
Cull passes these lessons on to the players he coaches. His expectations are high.
“My parents were hard-working people and great role models for my brothers and me,” Cull said. “We were at the rink a lot and we had a normal family life. My biggest influence was my family. They taught me a lot with how they worked and lived and dedicated time to their kids. It served me well.”
All three of his older brothers, Terry, Tom and Todd, played hockey. The family would huddle around the television on Saturday nights to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs. Around the Cull household, it was essentially hockey, hockey, hockey.
Cull advanced through minor hockey and Junior B before making it to the Ontario Hockey League in 1989 with the Owen Sound Platers. He played five seasons in the OHL with Owen Sound, Windsor and Kingston.
Everything began to click for Cull when he was 19. His coach Dave Allison, a former minor league defenceman, gave his some good advice.
“I wasn’t a good player and didn’t play rep hockey until peewee,” Cull said.
“I was a tall, skinny kid, but my feet caught up to me in Junior B. I had to play physical. I didn’t look away from it. I was born and bred that way because we played rough in the backyard growing up. I was a high draft pick in the OHL. I started as a prospect, but turned into a suspect. I shuffled around in the OHL. My last two years I played for Dave Allison and it was phenomenal. He turned me into a professional.”
Cull was on the cusp on realizing his dreams of playing in the National Hockey League on several occasions, but only managed to play in exhibition games. He carved out a rough-and-tumble 10-year minor professional career as a no-nonsense player in St. John’s, Houston, Springfield, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Syracuse before retiring as a player.
Cull is known for his honesty. It was the key reason why the Wolves hired him.
“Trent is early to the office and the last one to leave,” said Wolves president and GM Blaine Smith. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and he says it like it is. As driven as he is, he is still down-to-earth, polite and respectful. This is the guy we needed to coach our young players.”
Cull’s straightforward approach has made an impact on the players he coaches on a day-to-day basis for more than eight months of the year.
“The thing that stands out about Trent as a person is his honesty,” said Wolves defenceman Frank Corrado.
“He tells you things the way he sees them. You may not always like the answer, but you respect his opinion because he is always honest and shows a lot of integrity. He is always willing to talk about hockey, but is also open to talking about life and giving us advice for the real world.
“He is open and honest with us, and that allows us to get better both on and off the ice. Trent has been influential in my development as a player and a person.”
Despite being so close to playing in the NHL he could taste it, Cull has no bitter feelings. Hockey has just been good to him.
“I wouldn‘t change anything” he said. “I met my wife in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. I was injured and out for a beer at a local place. I saw her and just struck up a conversation. I’m very lucky. I have a wife who has travelled all over with me. She is my glue and has always backed me up and been up for the challenges of life.”
Cull is a family man first and foremost. Any free time he gets, he spends with his wife and three children ,Gabe, 7, Wyatt, 4, and Sam, 1. He likes where the choices he has made in life has brought him.
“Sudbury is naturally beautiful and a great place to raise kids. It might be just me, but the sun seems to always be out in Sudbury. I like that because it does a lot for keeping you positive.”