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Belfast Giants strengthen defensive group by signing former college All-Star Will Cullen to blue-line


New Belfast Giants defenceman Will Cullen in action for the Bowling Green State University Falcons

New Belfast Giants defenceman Will Cullen in action for the Bowling Green State University Falcons

New Belfast Giants defenceman Will Cullen in action for the Bowling Green State University Falcons

The Belfast Giants have further added to their defence for the 2022/23 season with the signing of former NCAA All-Star Will Cullen from ECHL side Idaho Steelheads.

The 26-year-old American could be the final piece of the defensive puzzle for the Giants and he would round out a skilled group that will man the blue-line for Adam Keefe’s side this season.

With seven defencemen on the books for next season, it seems likely that the Giants have completed their defensive recruitment and it is believed that former Great Britain international Mark Garside will primarily switch back to forward for the new campaign, however will still be asked to play on defence if required.

That will allow Cullen to slot into the defence, and he arrives at the SSE Arena with another impressive CV behind him, the 6ft defenceman having been a college stand-out for Bowling Green State University.

The New York native scored 17 goals and 55 points in 96 NCAA games for the Falcons between 2018 and 2021 and was named both Defensive Player of the Year and to the WCHA Conference First All-Star Team in the 2020-21 season.

After starting last season with Miami University in Ohio, Cullen opted to turn pro after playing just seven games for the Redhawks and spent the season split between the AHL, playing three games for the Bridgeport Islanders, and ECHL.

The right-shot d-man played 32 games in the ECHL between the Worcester Railers, where he was a team-mate of former Giants forward Jordan Smotherman, and Steelheads, scoring 10 goals and 19 points.

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“Adam Keefe reached out and told me about the opportunity and it seemed like a good fit. It seemed like he was the kind of coach who’s going to get the best and the most out of his players,” commented Cullen.

"Coop (Mark Cooper) and I went to the same college, so I asked him a lot of questions about the coaching staff, the style of play, what it was like being in another country playing hockey, and he had nothing but good things to say about it.

"It speaks volumes that he wants to come back to represent Belfast and the local community – that told me everything I need to know.”

With Kevin Raine and Sam Ruopp’s defensive pairing from last season likely to be continued, that leaves two pairings to be filled between the returning Jeff Baum and new signings Gabe Bast, Cullen and Matt Foley.

Based on their profiles, it seems likely that Bast and Cullen will be kept separate as the two offensive defencemen on the roster, however it is not yet clear how Keefe will utilise his blue-liners.

Cullen’s arrival means that Elite League Defenceman of the Year Griffin Reinhart will not be returning to the Giants for next season as he pursues opportunities elsewhere.

The 28-year-old, who was also a First Team All-Star last season, is understood to have been mulling over a return to Belfast for a long time over the summer but ultimately decided against it.

Reinhart scored four goals and 35 points in 69 games for the Giants last season, playing to a +42 rating, and leaves big shoes to fill at the SSE Arena.

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