Know Your Bobcat – Cullen Willox
Throughout the months of August and September, BismarckBobcats.com will be taking a one-by-one look at the players on the Bobcats’ Training Camp Roster. Today’s installment features rookie Bobcat forward Cullen Willox.
Name: Cullen Willox
Hometown: Eagan, MN
Weight: 195 lbs.
2012-13 Team: Eagan High School Wildcats
2012-13 Stats: 24 GP, 28 G, 26 A, 54 PTS, 10 PIM, 4 PPG, 1 SHG, 5 GWG
Favorite Movie: Pulp Fiction
Favorite Pro Sports Team: Minnesota Vikings
Highlight of 2012-13: “In the finals of our Christmas tournament, we were down 5-0 to [eventual State Finalist] Hermantown halfway through the game and came all the way back to win in the shootout over a really good team.”
Not unlike a number of his fellow Bismarck Bobcats rookies, Cullen Willox is a center who describes himself as a power forward, meaning he uses his big frame to create superior positioning on offense and win physical puck battles along the wall at both ends of the ice.
“I want to be a force when I’m out there, at both ends of the ice,” offered Willox, who played his prep for Eagan High in suburban Minneapolis. “My goal is to use my size to make plays and be a steady contributor.”
Willox’s power forward prowess is what first caught the attention of Bobcats Midwest regional scout Aaron Venasky, who scouted him in 2012-13 with the Wildcats.
“The first thing I think fans will notice about Cullen is his ability to finish checks,” lauded Venasky, who would eventually get Willox to sign a tender agreement, placing him directly on the Cats’ protected list before the 2013 NAHL Entry Draft. “Not only that, but he has really nice hands and puck skills. He was an outstanding lacrosse player for Eagan, as well, which is where I think his puck skills come from.”
In his first action in black and gold, Willox got a pair of points from some stereotypical power forward plays: scoring a goal from in front of the net on the power play and winning a puck battle on the wall for an assist in the Cats’ 5-2 win over the Minot Minotauros Saturday night.
His game has earned some lofty praise from the Cats’ scouting department.
“He’s a difficult player to handle down low in the offensive zone and around the net,” added Venasky. “He uses his frame for puck protection the way that [future NHL Hall of Famer] Jaromir Jagr does and is physical enough to overpower the opposing defensemen while being skilled enough to stuff the stat sheet.”
That said, he’s not afraid to use that same frame at the other end—or, as he’ll tell you, the more important end.
“We (the Bobcats) are a defense-first team. Everything starts in the defensive zone,” stressed Willox. “So I want to be able to get in the corners and support the defense with puck battles and clearing traffic in front of the net as much as I can.”
Cullen Willox’s alma mater, Eagan High School, has become a major contender in Minnesota’s hockey Region 3AA—featuring heavy hitters like East Ridge, Eastview, Apple Valley and Cretin-Derham Hall—which they have won three times since 2006.
“Our conference and our section are really tough with some really talented teams that we face all year long,” stated Willox, who put up five points in three games in the 2013 Section 3AA playoffs. “Playing against these guys all year is great for developing as a player.”
The numbers don’t lie, as the Wildcats produced a trio of high-powered NAHL’ers for 2012-13: former Bobcat blueliner Sam Wolfe and former Wenatchee Wild—current Minnesota Magicians—Derick and Nick Kuchera.
Not only do they have a strong developmental track record, but Eagan’s winning tradition is also a big draw for NAHL scouts.
“It may sound simple, but winning players generally know what it takes to win and make a play in crunch time,” advised Venasky, who scouted the Wildcats during their recent run of success. “You look at Cullen, and he was a part of two sectional championships (2011, 2012) and a run to the sectional final (2013). That’s a guy who knows how to win.”
Stylistically, the Wildcats’ philosophy also meshes well with that of Bobcat Hockey.
“Eagan plays some of the most physical hockey that you see in all of Minnesota high school,” noted Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie. “Playing in a system that values that tough, grinding style will definitely be an asset for Cullen as he makes the jump to the NAHL level of play.”
Jump Right In
Now that Cullen Willox is in Bismarck/Mandan and has gone through the first three weeks of training camp, he’s starting to get in the groove of life as a Bobcat.
The first step was to survive the team’s Hell Week training program to open camp.
“Hell Week was tough; the toughest thing I’ve ever been through,” explained Willox. “But I can definitely see the value in terms of team building and conditioning, especially for a player like me: I only played 24 regular season games last year so the mental and physical toughness you gain from Hell Week should really help in getting through the grind of jumping up to a 60-game season.”
A big ingredient in making the transition to the NAHL has been getting on the same page with the team’s veterans who have been there before.
“I’ve got to say, the older guys in the locker room have been really great. They’ve been very welcoming and very cool with all us rookies,” credited Willox. “Every veteran makes a point of taking at least one first-year guy under their wing, get to know them personally and help them learn the ropes of the league and junior hockey.”
With the players coming together as a unit, it gives the rookie forward a chance to look at big-picture team goals.
“There’s chemistry there, for sure,” observed Willox, “and we’re all learning to work together—and that’s the important thing: the work. If we can all put in the work on the night in, night out basis that’s needed at this level, we have every opportunity to make it back to the Robertson Cup and bring it back here with us.”
Stay tuned to BismarckBobcats.com over the next month-plus as we take you in-depth with every player on the Training Camp Roster in preparation for the 2013-14 season. This week we’ll also sit down with Connor Kelly, Eric Ylitalo, Tommy Malkmus and Kolton Aubol.