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Like grandfather, like grandson

December 11, 2009

by Jess Mikula || AHL On The Beat Archive

Four banners hang high atop the ice surface of Giant Center -- home of the 10-time Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears -- which bear the names of seven legendary figures in the franchise’s prolific 72-year history.

The banners of Hershey’s four retired numbers represent Chocolatetown royalty. Frank Mathers, Ralph Keller, Mike Nykoluk, Willie Marshall, Tim Tookey, Mitch Lamoureux and Arnie Kullman are all immortalized in the rafters.

On the Hershey bench 100 feet below his grandfather’s number, Justin Kullman serves as the team’s equipment manager.

Most days, Justin can be found at the rink hours prior to the Bears’ 10:00 a.m. practices.

“A typical day starts at 7:30 in the morning,” he said. “I come in, set up for practice -- jerseys, laundry, that stuff -- and make sure we’re ready to go for the day. The odd days of the week I prepare for the road. We usually leave Thursday after practice, so Tuesday morning, for instance, I come in and pack the sticks and jerseys and get the practice jerseys ready for Thursday so it’s a lighter load at the end of the week.”

After practice, Justin cleans up the locker room, does laundry and repairs equipment or sharpens skates if necessary.

“Basically I just try and set myself up so that [the next day] I just have to come in and set up for practice without any extra work,” he said.

Justin began his career as a trainer’s assistant in the 1997-98 season. Good friend and Hersheypark Arena manager Wilbur “Wimp” Hallman introduced him to longtime Bears trainer Dan “Beaker” Stuck.

“Before you know it, Beaker let me start filling water bottles, and I fell in love with the job,” he said.

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With the departure of Hershey’s equipment manager after the 2002-03 season, Justin was appointed to the vacant position. “As soon as I graduated from high school, I got the job. I was very fortunate,” he said.

As an integral member of the Hershey organization, Justin has seen three trips to the Calder Cup Finals and two championships in his seven-year tenure as equipment manager. His name appears on the Cup twice, a feat accomplished this June -- 50 years after his grandfather Arnie captured the second of his back-to-back titles.

A 21-year-old Arnie Kullman made his Bears debut in 1948-49 and immediately etched his name into Hershey record books when he recorded 56 points in 66 games. Arnie’s inaugural season ranks him 16th overall in Bears single season rookie scoring.

A centerman from Winnipeg, Man., he spent 12 subsequent seasons with the Chocolate and White, capturing consecutive Calder Cups in 1958 and 1959. He skated in 13 games for the Boston Bruins during his career, and although he never made it to the NHL full-time, Arnie was considered one of the most consistent skaters in the AHL during the 1950s. He left an indelible mark on the Bears franchise.

A dynamic scorer, Arnie showed a great deal of offensive prowess in Hershey, as he paced the team in one or more scoring categories in each of three seasons. In 1950-51, he led the Bears in goals, assists and points (32-56-84) and in 1951-52, he led the team in overall points (56). In 1954-55, the same year that saw Don Cherry lead the team in penalty minutes, Arnie led the team in assists and points (48-71).

Hundreds of players have worn a Hershey sweater in the past 72 years. Most are eventually forgotten, lost in a franchise overflowing with a tradition of unparalleled talent and success. But a handful of men, like Arnie Kullman, have established themselves as the Bears elite.

Arnie, who passed away in 1999, remains in the top tier of all-time scoring in Hershey. He ranks fourth in all-time assists, his 366 helpers trailing Gil Gilbert, Tim Tookey and Mike Nykoluk. His 253 career goals were surpassed only by Dunc Fisher. With 619 points, Arnie ranks third in all-time scoring, behind Tookey and Nykoluk.

When he played his last game for the Bears in 1960, it was Arnie’s 753rd game, then a Hershey record. This mark was only ever eclipsed by Mike Nykoluk.

Nearly half a century later, another Kullman is leaving his mark on the Hershey organization. Justin is proud to be a part of the same club that saw his grandfather’s number retired to the rafters.

“It’s pretty neat,” Justin said of working beneath the number 9 banner. “Obviously there are roots with him being such a good hockey player and playing almost his whole career here in Hershey. It’s a pretty neat thing to do.

“To win the Calder Cup twice, that was my goal when I started. It would have been a fairy-tale ending if we could have won in 2007 to go back-to-back like he did. But just to have my name on the Cup twice as he did is an honor,” he said.

“I don’t know if there’s ever a chance that this scenario happens where my name and his name are in the same organization, but I think it’s really cool.”