Trent Cull is quite familiar with the American Hockey League after playing and coaching at this pro level for much of the last 20 years.
His new gig with the Utica Comets is his first head coaching job at this level after previously serving as an assistant with the Syracuse Crunch for eight seasons from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2013 until June. He was the head coach of the OHL's Sudbury Wolves for three seasons (2010 to 2013) and compiled a 94-88-11-11 record.
The 44-year-old Cull played 11 seasons as a defenseman in the AHL and IHL with five teams: St. John's, Houston, Springfield, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Syracuse. He played 618 games as a pro with 28 goals, 79 assists and 107 points and accumulated 1,629 penalty minutes.
He’s excited about coaching the Comets and this phase of his hockey career.
Question: You landed the Comets job at the end of June. What have the last couple of months been like for you? Has it been busy? Difficult?
Answer: Busy? Absolutely. Busy just because you work all year, you have a long year which is always a good thing. But, in the summer … for me it was an opportunity to go interview right away after (Syracuse’s season) finished. … Then it turned into a list of timelines and how the puzzle pieces fit. A lot of those intertwined back and forth with business and personal, trying to get my family set up, trying to get them to the Utica community. I’ve always lived in the town that I’ve worked. I kind of believe in that. My family believes in that. … That was a process in itself. The other part once you get the job is talking to (assistant coach Jason King, I was excited to talk to him. We worked together at development camp which was almost right away after. Then I had to hire another assistant, so I hired Gary (Agnew) as an assistant. … These things all sound like quick things. But they take a lot of time, they take a lot of energy. There’s a lot of other people that I talked to and interviewed to make sure. … I wanted to make sure I got the right guy and feel like I did that with Gary and also having Jason helped. And then it was just getting used to everybody: the personnel, the staff, not only here but in Vancouver. And then trying to get versed in the organization with whose here and who the players are and whose up-and-coming and whose already existing.
Q: You mentioned Gary Agnew a little bit. You played for him in Syracuse. What about him was important to be on your staff?
A: Gary is first of all, seasoned. His experience in the AHL is great. His experience in the NHL is great. … I obviously played for him and started coaching my foray. Two years after, he left to go to Columbus and … they hired me to be the next assistant. I’ve worked with him in a number of different manners. For me, he was important because NHL experience is great. Just being honest, it’s something I don’t have. So, to me it was an important part of the hiring process. I wanted to have an experienced guy because I think Jason is a good, young and up-and-coming coach. But then I feel I have a pretty good handle and experience on the American Hockey League level and knowing where the junior kids are coming from. That, really for me, I wanted to that NHL box checked off. He has that. … He’s a great communicator. He comes in to fill a position that he last worked in Pittsburgh as running the (penalty kill) and the defense. So, I thought it was a great fit.
Q: What drew you to hockey growing up?
A: I had three older brothers who all played. None played pro. I was kind of the sport-jockey kid. I loved all sports. … I wasn’t very good to start with. I didn’t make the travel … teams. I started catching up at around the age of 10 or 11. And then, a few years later, there was (an opportunity) to try out for the Junior B team in town and I made that as a 14-year-old. And guys said if you play, you could get drafted. I didn’t know what they were talking about it. I didn’t know what drafted meant. That was just into the (Ontario Hockey League). So, I played OHL and I was never drafted into the NHL, I was signed as a free agent. And then bumbled around for 10 years. … Anyways, what attracted me? Just the sport, my brothers played and we played in the backyard and we loved it.
Q: Who influenced as a player or a coach?
A: That’s tough. As a player, I was always kind of finding my way. I just used to watch all the guys. I remember, (NHL veteran) Todd Gill. … I used watch the Toronto guys (like) Luke Richardson. These are guys I was with in training camp after. Those guys were always kind of guys that I watched. As a coach, you have influences as guys who used to be your coach when you played. I was fortunate, I had some great coaches in Dave Tippett. There was a guy in junior, Dave Allison, who really helped along and kind of taught me how to play the game. And (Gary Agnew), of course. Dave Barr was an assistant coach with Dave Tippett the year (1998-99) we won a championship … those guys were really instrumental on that team as well as Mike Yeo. And then I went to Wilkes-Barre and Mike Yeo turned into an assistant coach. There’s some guys for sure that were very instrumental.
Q: What’s your ideal player? What qualities are you looking for?
A: Big. Skilled. Hard-working. Great character. Is there a guy like that? (laughs).
Q: Have you had a player like that?
A: No. There are no perfect players. That being said, there are unreal, phenomenal players. For me, to have a chance to coach Drew Doughty (2005-06 with Guelph Storm) at a young age, to have coached Nikita Kucherov (2013-14 with Syracuse); with the star factor … you see with these guys, you don’t coach much, you just kind of funnel them along and give them some guidelines. Those are pretty special players.
Q: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in your time in hockey?
A: That’s a broad one. I would just say more that the game models life a lot. Like, it is life lessons. … You have work, you have to come prepared to work. I think that’s one of our biggest things as American League coaches is we are preparing kids to be pros. We have some great veteran leadership here, already I know that. So we’re very lucky. Those guys are extensions of me in the dressing room. I think that would be the biggest thing: Business is business whether it’s car sales or running an arena or running the Comets or coaching the Comets: You want good people around and you want to make sure people are trying getting better. Those are the people you want to surround yourself with.
Q: What’s your ultimate goal?
A: Well, of course I’d say I want to be a coach in the NHL. But, to be honest I’ve coveted this position since even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a coach and I played. But I feel very comfortable at the American Hockey League level. I left to be a head coach in junior and done that. I’ve come back here to be part of the American Hockey League and this is my immediate goal. I’m excited to be here and I’m in no rush. If I can make this work, I want to be as productive and successful as we possibly can be for Vancouver and for us here in Utica.
Contact reporter Ben Birnell at 315-792-5032 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Birnell).