The UNB Varsity Reds centre was the centre of attention at the 2013 Winter Universiade games in Trentino, Italy, where he captained his team to win gold.
“I was excited with the challenge and the opportunity of wearing the Canadian jersey,” said Chris Culligan.
The tournament would end in a final game of a 6-2 win over Kazakhstan, with captain Culligan scoring two of the goals for his team. But like every great story there is a humble beginning. For Culligan, his started at the age of three.
With hockey being a family game – his father having played hockey for St. Francis Xavier University (StFX), and his mother having played field hockey for StFX – it was a natural progression for him to get into the game himself.
“I think, more than anything, my parents tried to encourage my siblings and I to be active when we were younger and try different sports,” said Culligan. “Hockey is a big part of our culture as Canadians, so it was probably pretty natural for me to get involved.”
What kept him in the game was the support from his parents and all of the opportunities hockey has given him.
“They’ve put a lot of money into me playing hockey that has got me to this point in my life,” he said. “I’ll admit, coming to school wasn’t exactly what I wanted at first, but it was a chance to help my parents out financially by taking advantage of the athletic scholarships available.”
Another thing keeping him going is his friendships. He says their support and understanding some sacrifices would need to be made were what helped keep his head, and heart, in the sport.
“I can’t possibly thank them enough for that.”
After graduating from Riverview High School in 2006 he spent five years with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, from 2004 until 2009. His last three years he took classes at Cape Breton University.
But this wouldn’t be the only maritime university of which he would be a part.
He traded in his black, yellow and white jersey for the black and red – he became a UNB Varsity Red.
But they wouldn’t be the only colours he would wear during his time with UNB. Trying out for the Winter Universiade team, he found out he would be wearing the red and white with the iconic ref leaf in the centre only a few weeks after the all-star game earlier in the season.
There were different requirements needing to be met, but his four and a half years experience in the Atlantic University Sport League – not to mention the experience of three Canadian Interuniversity Sports Championships – made him a strong candidate.
“Realistically, a number of our players from UNB’s team could have been picked for the four roster spots available,” he said. “I felt privileged to have been one of the four chosen.”
Culligan was able to meet most of his teammates at the all-star game, as well as play with fellow V-Reds Marc-Antoine Desnoyers, Tyler Carroll and Nick MacNeil, giving them some time together before being thrown together as a team.
But of the four V-Reds on the team, Culligan would be the one to wear the stitched C on his jersey and lead the 22-person roster.
“I was honoured to be named Captain,” he said
Despite the quick turnaround of a roster and little time to bond, he said his respect for the team grew as the tournament went on.
“I realized by the end of it just how much each and every guy brought to the team,” said Culligan. “Every single guy played their part in one way or another that helped the team achieve success.”
The play-by-play of each game isn’t what Culligan remembers most about his time with the team, but rather what happened behind the scenes.
Relaxing and touring Italy – helping everyone get to know one another a little faster – teammates accepting smaller roles, and players like St. Thomas University goalie Jonathan Groenheyde coming to practice with a positive attitude and going the extra mile are what the captain remembers most.
“They made for some memorable moments,” he said. “And it had a direct influence on the outcome of the tournament.”
With an international win under their belt, the four Reds have come back to UNB to finish off their season.
Culligan says he realizes it’s more than likely it’s the last time he’ll get to wear the red and white and represent his country, but will remember every moment of his time in Italy.
“It wasn’t the Olympics or the World Juniors, but it was a chance to wear the red and white and get caught up in all of that like we did as kids in the driveway or on the pond,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of how the group bought into representing Canada, and each other.”