The twilight of John Cullen's courageous playing career has come to an end.
The Tampa Bay Lightning announced Friday that the veteran center has retired to accept a previously offered assistant coaching position with the team. He had been playing for the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League.
Cullen will address the media at a 5:45 p.m. EST news conference at the Ice Palace. The Lightning host the Florida Panthers tonight.
Cullen returned to the ice this season with Tampa Bay after sitting out the entire 1997-98 campaign due to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But the veteran center was ineffective in four games before being given the option of accepting a coaching position or a demotion to the IHL.
The 34-year-old opted to continue his playing career and was sent to Cleveland, where he collected two goals and seven assists in six games. Upon his demotion, he was assured by coach-general manager Jacques Demers that the coaching offer would stand weeks down the road.
Cullen was second on the team in scoring when he was diagnosed with cancer in March 1997 after a grapefruit-sized tumor was discovered in his chest. He underwent lengthy chemotherapy and was deemed cancer-free by doctors 13 months later.
Six months into the treatment, Cullen learned the chemotherapy had not completely eradicated the cancer, forcing a bone marrow transplant and radical chemotherapy in Boston.
Cullen re-signed with the Lightning prior to the start of the season. This preseason, he played in the NHL for the first time since 1996-97, when he collected 18 goals and 37 assists in 70 games.
In 621 NHL games over parts of 10 seasons for Pittsburgh, Hartford, Toronto and Tampa Bay, Cullen had 187 goals and 363 assists. He enjoyed his finest season in 1990-91, when he established career highs with 39 goals and 71 assists for the Penguins and Hartford Whalers.
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