Windsor Spitfires goalies share net, and friendship

Sunaya Sapurji
Yahoo Sports

The first time John Cullen met his new roommate and Windsor Spitfires goaltending partner, Jaroslav Pavelka, was like something out of a bad comedy.

Pavelka spoke very little English and Cullen, trying to be a good teammate, was doing his best finger-point and hand-signal routine in an attempt to communicate.

“We were paired together in a hotel room,” said Cullen. “And I was trying to help him fix his power converter for his (computer) charger.”

That was in November.

“Johnny Cullen, he’s my friend,” said Pavelka, in his steadily improving English. “In practice we try to be better and better. He’s a good guy.

“Johnny Cullen helps me with everything.”

On the surface, the Windsor Spitfires’ goaltenders seem mismatched – a shy teenager from the Czech Republic who struggles to communicate in a new language, and a boisterous American who never stops talking. Together, however, they seem to bring out the best in each other.

“They’ve been good together,” said Spitfires head coach Bob Boughner. “(Pavelka’s) English is just OK and it’s gotten a little better, and (Cullen’s) a pretty good team guy. They support each other in the net.

“Cullen is in his last year and he wants to finish his career off in the right way and Pavelka’s playing for the (NHL) draft, so it’s a good dynamic between the two of them.”

When Pavelka was traded to Windsor in early November, he was a small addendum to a larger deal with the Niagara IceDogs for German forward Tom Kuhnhackl. In an attempt to cut down to the Ontario Hockey League limit of two imports per team, the IceDogs included the 18-year-old goaltender in the package. The Spitfires were lukewarm on taking Pavelka because he had only played seven games with Niagara. Boughner and Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel watched Pavelka closely before deciding to finally sign him to a card, making him eligible to play for the recent two-time Memorial Cup champions.

“When he first got here, it was a big surprise,” said Boughner. “We took him back in the trade just because . . . (Niagara) needed to clear a spot. We took him in and sort of watched him practice for a week before we even signed him because we wanted to see what he was all about. He was impressive in practice. He has quick reflexes, he’s a very athletic kid.”

Since then, Pavelka’s played in 25 games for a rebuilding Windsor squad, going 8-11-1-1 with a 3.58 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. He’s very nicely complemented the 20-year-old Cullen. In 26 games with the Spits (24-26-3-2), the Hamburg, N.Y., native is 10-12-1 with a 3.66 GAA and .900 save percentage.

“Whoever is playing better at the time, that’s who is going to get the start,” said Boughner of his goaltending as the Spits embark on the stretch drive towards the OHL playoffs next month. “At this point I play no favourites. It’s whoever can make the big saves for us. We need wins.”

Although they’re both competing for the same starting job, there’s a sense each player still wants to see the other succeed.

“Goalies, we have our own language,” said Cullen. “So that’s been a way for us to communicate and grow closer with one another. Being out there, the two of us, and competing in practice to get better, that’s brought our friendship to a whole new level."

There’s also a definite student-teacher dynamic between the two. In the first period of Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Mississauga Majors, Pavelka went behind his net to play the puck, not realizing he had it in his skate. When he came back to his crease, the puck was sitting there as easy gift for Majors forward Riley Brace, who buried it to open the scoring. A quick chat with Cullen proved to be another learning opportunity for Pavelka.

“After the first goal (Pavelka) said, ‘Lucky,’ and I said, ‘Yes, but unlucky for you’,’’ said Cullen. “And he said, ‘Unlucky?’ So it’s little stuff like that I try to teach him everyday – especially hockey lingo. But he’s done a great job of adapting to our culture and he’s done a great job on the ice. We go out (in practice) early and work with each other on little stuff.”

And there is likely no better teacher than Cullen, who, even for a goaltender, isn’t your conventional junior player. When he was with the Kingston Frontenacs, the fourth-year netminder was a weekly radio guest on a popular drive-time morning show where he and the host would discuss politics and current events.

“He never shuts up,” said Boughner with smile. “Even when he’s not playing, he’s great on the bench because he’s screaming and yelling at the players. He’s a character. He loves to do (colour commentary) when he’s not playing. He’s always going.”

Much like Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas, Cullen isn’t afraid to share his political views publicly, either. He supported current Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul long before he was able to legally vote and would one day like to run for political office himself.

“What I like about Ron Paul is that he’s not afraid to ask questions,” said Cullen. “For me, the most important thing about his campaign is how he wants to audit the (U.S.) Federal Reserve and I think that has to do a lot with our national debt. It’s a big problem at home and I like that Ron Paul isn’t afraid to ask these questions and he’s not afraid to piss people off.”

Since his mother, Barbara, is a nurse and his father, Thomas, is a social worker, Cullen has grown up with an appreciation for public service. Time spent in Canada, however, has also given him an appreciation for universal health care.

“It’s a great initiative to be able to provide health care for those who can’t afford it,” said Cullen. “I’ve been blessed that my parents both have great jobs back home in the States, so my health care has been covered growing up. But I’ve also seen the other side where I’ve had friends whose parents worked regular jobs but they couldn’t come out and play football for us because they couldn’t afford to get hurt or get their arm or leg fixed if it was broken.”

He said if hockey doesn't work out, he'll be happy to use his OHL education package to finish university in Canada, having already taken some political science courses at Queen's University. In the meantime, though, his focus is on helping the seventh-place Spitfires get back to the postseason.

“I want to go to the playoffs,” said Cullen. “It’s my last year so I want to compete, I want to win. Through the winning will come the individual success.

“When I first came into the league I didn’t have the best practice habits, but that’s something I’ve learned to quickly change if you want to be successful. You need to practice every day like it’s a game.”

It's these small pieces of advice garnered over the years that Cullen has tried to share with Pavelka – even if the rookie netminder doesn't quite understand the notion of "tips" just yet.

“He’s a really great kid and I’m happy to work with him," said Cullen. "He’s got a bright future and, the way he’s been playing, I think he should be a pick in June at the NHL draft.”

And though he might not have the same vast vocabulary, Pavelka can still sum up his sentiments perfectly.

“Me and Johnny Cullen are like brothers.”

Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports.
Email: sunaya@yahoo-inc.com | Twitter @Sunayas

  • Scolari says has chosen Brazil's World Cup squad

    Scolari says has chosen Brazil's World Cup squad

    By Tatiana Ramil SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari knows his 23-man squadfor the World Cup finals and has chosen Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Julio Cesar and Fred to act as captains, he said on Thursday. "I have no doubts," Scolari … More »

    Reuters - 3 minutes 7 seconds ago
  • Pineda not only pitcher in majors to try pine tar

    Pineda not only pitcher in majors to try pine tar

    New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda is hardly the first major leaguer to head to the mound hoping to get away with using pine tar to aid his grip. ''It's not like somebody sits you down and says, 'Hey, dude, you should try this.' You see … More »

    AP - Sports - 7 minutes ago
  • Buffalo Bills cheerleaders halt season after suit

    Pack up the pom-poms in Buffalo, because the Bills will be playing without the support of their official cheerleaders this year. Stephanie Mateczun, whose company manages the Buffalo Jills cheerleading squad, said Thursday she has suspended … More »

    AP - Sports - 7 minutes ago
  • Rebels DL, ex-OT arrested for burglary

    Former Mississippi State offensive lineman Charles Siddoway and current defensive lineman Jordan Washington were arrested on Wednesday and charged with burglary and robbery. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Siddoway started all 26 games of his Mississippi … More »

    AP - Sports - 10 minutes ago
  • Will Ducks find ’another level’ in Game 5?

    Will Ducks find ’another level’ in Game 5?

    Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski breaks down Anaheim’s chances heading home for Game 5 … More »

    Yahoo Sports Videos - 12 minutes ago
  • Is postseason pressure too much for Marc-Andre Fleury?

    Is postseason pressure too much for Marc-Andre Fleury?

    Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski explains why there’s cause for concern for the Pittsburgh netminder heading into Game 5 … More »

    Yahoo Sports Videos - 12 minutes ago
  • Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda suspended 10 games for using pine tar, won't appeal

    Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda suspended 10 games for using pine tar, won't appeal

    BOSTON - New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended for 10 games Thursday after being caught using pine tar. "I accept it," Pineda said before Thursday night's game at Fenway Park. Pineda was ejected in the second inning of Wednesday … More »

    The Canadian Press - 12 minutes ago
  • All eyes on Northwestern football players as historic vote on college union arrives

    All eyes on Northwestern football players as historic vote on college union arrives

    EVANSTON, Ill. - Northwestern University's football players will cast ballots Friday on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes — a potentially landmark vote that will be kept sealed for months and possibly years. The National … More »

    The Canadian Press - 13 minutes ago
  • Can Blues still beat the defending champs?

    Can Blues still beat the defending champs?

    Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski explains why one piece is crucial for St. Louis to succeed against Chicago … More »

    Yahoo Sports Videos - 13 minutes ago
  • Is Steve Mason better for Flyers in Game 5?

    Is Steve Mason better for Flyers in Game 5?

    Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski explains what changing goalies will mean for Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals … More »

    Yahoo Sports Videos - 13 minutes ago
  • Benfica beats Juventus 2-1 in Europa League semis

    Benfica beats Juventus 2-1 in Europa League semis

    LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Substitute Lima scored in the 84th minute to give Benfica a 2-1 victory over Italy's Juventus in the first-leg of their Europa League semifinal Thursday night. … More »

    AP - Sports - 14 minutes ago
  • Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar stolen in sticker heist

    Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar stolen in sticker heist

    Avid World Cup sticker collectors in Rio de Janeiro were given a shock this week when a van carrying hundreds of thousands of Panini stickers was stolen during a delivery. Thieves made off with some 300,000 of the adhesive stickers featuring … More »

    Reuters - 19 minutes ago
  • Blazers return home with a 2-0 advantage

    Blazers return home with a 2-0 advantage

    PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Houston has a LaMarcus Aldridge problem. … More »

    AP - Sports - 22 minutes ago
  • Phelps wins first race in comeback

    By Julian Linden PHOENIX (Reuters) - Michael Phelps made an ominous start in his comeback to competitive swimming on Thursday, setting the fastest time in the 100 metres butterfly heats at a USA Swimming Grand Prix meet in suburban Phoenix. Racing … More »

    Reuters - 22 minutes ago
  • NBA playoffs - What to watch for Friday

    NBA playoffs - What to watch for Friday

    Yahoo Sports' Evan Doherty looks ahead to the trio of Game 3s featuring Raptors-Nets, Bulls-Wizards and Rockets-Blazers. … More »

    Yahoo Sports Videos - 26 minutes ago
  • Paul McCartney to play at Candlestick concert

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Pop legend Paul McCartney is set to return to Candlestick Park to offer a swan song to the San Francisco 49ers' former stadium. … More »

    AP - Sports - 30 minutes ago
  • Wings may get Zetterberg back for Game 4

    Wings may get Zetterberg back for Game 4

    DETROIT (AP) -- Henrik Zetterberg may play for the Detroit Red Wings in a critical Game 4 against the Boston Bruins. … More »

    AP - Sports - 31 minutes ago
  • Kluber, Indians roll past Royals 5-1

    Kluber, Indians roll past Royals 5-1

    Corey Kluber stayed stone-faced, maintaining the same stoic look in the clubhouse that he had for nine innings on the mound. Only when prodded by an Indians teammate did Kluber crack. ''Did you smile after the game?'' pitcher Justin Masterson … More »

    AP - Sports - 33 minutes ago
  • Kosar: I'm off TV due to slurred speech

    Kosar: I'm off TV due to slurred speech

    Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar believes he has been unfairly sacked as a TV broadcaster. Kosar has been removed as a color commentator for Cleveland's preseason games by the team. The Browns said Wednesday night he was being replaced by … More »

    AP - Sports - 33 minutes ago
  • Trip Tips: Brazil's beachless metropolis is a foodie's paradise

    By Todd Benson SAO PAULO (Reuters) - If your idea of Brazil is beaches and bikinis, São Paulo is not the place to go. But if you're a seasoned traveler who tends to shun traditional tourism hot spots for urban adventures off the beaten trail, then … More »

    Reuters - 35 minutes ago
  • Cabrera, Scherzer lift Tigers by ChiSox

    Cabrera, Scherzer lift Tigers by ChiSox

    There's little doubt that Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters in baseball. Cabrera found infield gaps with a pair of two-out hits to drive in three runs in Detroit's 7-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox. ''I'm just trying to hit the ball … More »

    AP - Sports - 37 minutes ago
  • Armstrong loses arbitration appeal to block case

    A Texas appeals court has rejected Lance Armstrong's attempts to block an arbitration panel from reviewing $12 million in bonuses paid to him by a company that wants its money back, a setback for the cyclist who is fighting multiple legal battles … More »

    AP - Sports - 37 minutes ago
  • NLRB to review Northwestern union ruling

    NLRB to review Northwestern union ruling

    Northwestern University's football players will cast ballots Friday on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes - a potentially landmark vote that will be kept sealed for months and possibly years. The National Labor Relations … More »

    AP - Sports - 45 minutes ago
  • Column: 'There's better ways to conceal it.'

    Column: 'There's better ways to conceal it.'

    The thing that has baseball folks riled up about Michael Pineda isn't that he was trying to cheat. It had to qualify as the grossest violation ever of Rule 8.02(b), which says, ''The pitcher shall not ... have on his person, or in his possession, … More »

    AP - Sports - 45 minutes ago
  • Whisenhunt looks forward to Titans' minicamp

    New Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt looks forward to discovering just how many holes the team filled through free agency. Whisenhunt said Thursday he's eager to see his team and begin an evaluation process that could affect the Titans' draft … More »

    AP - Sports - 45 minutes ago
  • Arizona's Bolsinger gets first MLB win

    Arizona's Bolsinger gets first MLB win

    Pitching only 8 miles from where he grew up, Mike Bolsinger had more nerves than usual when he stepped on the mound at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. In front of about 20 family and friends, some of whom he hadn't seen in a long time after … More »

    AP - Sports - 48 minutes ago
  • Silver expects no CBA opt-out by union

    NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says he has ''no expectation'' that players will opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2017, potentially leading to another lockout. … More »

    AP - Sports - 49 minutes ago
  • NASCAR hopes Track Takeover brings fans

    NASCAR hopes Track Takeover brings fans

    They are calling it ''Track Takeover'' at Richmond International Raceway, and track President Dennis Bickmeier hopes allowing fans onto the racing surface a few hours before race time on Saturday night will not only improve their experience at the … More »

    AP - Sports - 51 minutes ago
  • Yankees RHP Pineda suspended 10 games

    Yankees RHP Pineda suspended 10 games

    New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended for 10 games Thursday after being caught using pine tar. ''I accept it,'' Pineda said before Thursday night's game at Fenway Park. Pineda was ejected in the second inning of Wednesday night's … More »

    AP - Sports - 55 minutes ago
  • Cal Poly baseball team is toast of the West Coast

    Cal Poly has long been known for turning out great engineers and architects. The San Luis Obispo school that produced Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith in the 1970s is enjoying its finest season since joining Division I in 1995. At 35-5, the Mustangs … More »

    AP - Sports - 57 minutes ago
  • Some rules regarding Northwestern union vote

    In the wake of a ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that they qualify as employees under federal law, Northwestern football players are voting Friday on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes. … More »

    AP - Sports - 59 minutes ago
  • The 10-man rotation, starring a very cool time-lapse drawing of LeBron James (Video)

    The 10-man rotation, starring a very cool time-lapse drawing of LeBron James (Video)

    A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out. … More »

    Ball Don't Lie - 1 hour 0 minutes ago
  • Benfica and Sevilla secure Europa League wins

    Benfica and Sevilla secure Europa League wins

    By Toby Davis LONDON (Reuters) - A stunning late goal from Benfica's Lima left Juventus's hopes of reaching a home Europa League final hanging in the balance after a 2-1 first-leg defeat, while Sevilla won 2-0 against Valencia in Thursday's … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 0 minutes ago
  • NFL draft's most precarious pick: Jadeveon Clowney

    NFL draft's most precarious pick: Jadeveon Clowney

    If the South Carolina standout doesn’t live up to his potential, it's more than possible the blame will fall on his coaching staff for not fully unlocking his immense talent. They will get the burden of proof, because look at how talented Clowney … More »

    Yahoo Sports - 1 hour 1 minute ago
  • Mets hand Cards' Lynn first April loss

    Mets hand Cards' Lynn first April loss

    Daisuke Matsuzaka pinched his eyelids, clenched his teeth and thought back. After 123 starts during seven seasons in Major League Baseball, the 33-year-old right-hander was turned into a reliever by the New York Mets when they brought him up from … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 2 minutes ago
  • NCAA proposal for governance change

    Highlights from the proposal to change the NCAA's governance structure, which was endorsed Thursday by the NCAA's board of directors. A formal vote is not expected until the board's quarterly meeting in August: - The five biggest football … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 6 minutes ago
  • New statue of Penn State's Paterno set for 2015 unveiling: alumni

    New statue of Penn State's Paterno set for 2015 unveiling: alumni

    By David DeKok HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Fundraising for a new statue depicting Joe Paterno "as the man he was and not Joe the football coach" is set to begin two years after his image was removed from Penn State University because of a … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 8 minutes ago
  • George Hincapie offers an unvarnished look at cycling in new memoir

    George Hincapie offers an unvarnished look at cycling in new memoir

    George Hincapie was the "Loyal Lieutenant" who helped Lance Armstrong to seven Tour de France titles, only to later provide the key testimony that brought his downfall. Now, Hincapie is talking again about one of the darkest eras in cycling. In a … More »

    The Canadian Press - 1 hour 8 minutes ago
  • Texas' Kouzmanoff to have back evaluated

    Texas' Kouzmanoff to have back evaluated

    Texas third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff was scheduled to be evaluated Friday at home by a back specialist before the Rangers make a roster move to activate Adrian Beltre from the disabled list. Kouzmanoff, who is hitting .362 in 13 games and is the … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 9 minutes ago
  • Gomez helps spark aggressive Brewers' hot start

    Gomez helps spark aggressive Brewers' hot start

    MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Brewers' new leadoff hitter can aggravate pitchers by slugging homers or stealing bases. Carlos Gomez is flustering foes, and his energetic approach has helped Milwaukee jump out to the best record in baseball. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 10 minutes ago