By Mason Lyttle
JANESVILLE, WI – The Janesville Jets, proud members of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), are pleased to announce that forward Cullen Munson has committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten.
This year, Munson (5’11/190) finished a hair below a point-per-game average, with 20 goals and 35 assists in 56 games. He picked up a pair of points in his two games at the Top Prospects Tournament, and tallied nine assists in nine games on the Jets’ playoff run. The third-year veteran finished his Jets career second in points (113) behind Adam Winborg, and first in games played (175) and penalty minutes (249).
“Coach [Joe] Dibble had an incredible impact on me growing up as a hockey player and as a person,” said Munson. “I can’t thank him and the three assistant coaches I’ve had as a Jet enough. They were all instrumental in helping me become who I am and helping me grow as a person. They’re top notch.”
Munson missed just five regular season games in his three-year career. The 2015-16 “Ironman” Award winner, as voted on by his peers, also won this year’s “Unsung Hero” Award, picked by his coaches.
“Since Munson got here, we’ve had some teams that were pretty deep at forward,” said fifth-year head coach and general manager Joe Dibble. “But the cream always rises to the top. His rookie year had some flashes of brilliance when he stepped in to that first line center for a bit, and he’s always had the work ethic needed to be a D-I center. You really saw his compete and his skill come together this year on the stats page, but Cullen Munson always done the little things right.”
A native of Edina, Munson shone at Edina High, scoring 70 points in 95 games and capping his Hornets career with a state championship. After three years of seasoning and development in the NAHL, the Minnesotan got his storybook ending to his junior career in committing to the Gophers.
“It’s a dream come true for a kid from Minnesota,” Munson said. “It’s amazing.”
Munson said he was most drawn to the program because of its exceptional coaching staff and support from the university.
“Everything they do there is excellent,” he said. “The Big Ten is also an excellent conference to compete in. It’s unbelievable.”
The Gophers, one of the most iconic and storied programs in college hockey history, play at the 10,000-seat Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. Built in 1993, the Mariucci Arena has seen 24 seasons of Gopher hockey, including seven conference tournament championships, seven Frozen Four appearances, and back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003. Head coach Don Lucia, who led those title teams, will begin his 19th season as the Gophers’ bench boss.
“You’d have a pretty hard time finding a better coaching staff than what’s assembled at Minnesota,” said Dibble, also a fellow Minnesotan. “They’re practically an NHL program with how professional and well-run they are as an organization, and you see that high profile reflected in the excitement level of guys like Munson who commit there. They’re as excited as someone who just got drafted in the NHL. That’s how great a program it is, and how much it means to a Minnesota kid.”
Asked to identify his greatest improvement over his junior career, Munson pointed off ice.
“It always starts with becoming a great teammate,” he said, echoing dozens of Jets players before him. “I started my time in Janesville as an okay teammate, but after three years, I grew into being a great one. I obviously try to work as hard as I can on the ice, but it’s about improving your teammates, too, and helping your teammates get better.”
The future Golden Gopher, who picked Wisconsin Badgers goaltender Matt Jurusik as the former Jet he’s most excited to compete against, jokingly asked Jets fans to take it easy on his roommate.
“Be nice to Kip Hoffmann next year,” Munson said of the ’97 forward, who next season will no doubt surpass some of Munson’s statistical records. “He’s kind of sensitive. I’m going to be mad when he passes my games played [record].
“I want to say thank you to all the fans,” he continued. “We have the best fans in the league, the most loyal, and I appreciate everything they’ve done for the past three years for me.”
Munson becomes the 12th player of the 2016-17 Janesville Jets to commit to a Division I program, joining Adam Roeder (Northern Michigan), Derek Schaedig (Harvard), Blake Wareham (Canisius), Adrian Holesinsky (Maine), Jakov Novak (Bentley), Chris Dodero (American International), Cole Paskus (UMass Lowell), Colin Felix (UMass Amherst), Jack Gates (Colorado College), Michael Maloney (Brown University), and Joey Abate (Wisconsin).
Contact the Janesville Jets’ front office at (608) 752-JETS, or go to www.janesvillejets.com for offseason news, including player camps, community outreach, season ticket information, and sponsorship opportunities. Stay connected to the Jets through Facebook (/janesvillehockey) and Twitter (@JanesvilleJets1).
(Photograph courtesy of Kim Kowalski, Gametime Sports Photos)