That left him only one option this postseason — cram all the fun of a full year into a hectic several weeks.
McCulloch has become a money scorer for Texas in its run to the American Hockey League Calder Cup final against Hershey. Although he has just three goals and four assists for the Stars, almost all of those points have been loaded with impact.
Goal No. 1 tied Game 7 vs. Chicago in the West Division finals at 2-2. Score No. 2 was a third-period tying marker in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against Hamilton, which the Stars won in overtime to fight off elimination.
The third was a third-period winner to help Texas stun Hershey in the first game of the finals. In Game 2 of that series, McCulloch was in the middle of all the commotion again when he picked up the first assist on Travis Morin‘s game-winner at the 19:14 mark of the third.
"The goals have come at good times for our team. That’s been a positive for myself. When you get one, it makes you confident to get more," said McCulloch, 23. "I think everybody gets breaks and bounces. It’s nice that they are coming in the playoffs for me."
Call it evening up the score. McCulloch started the season with an abdominal injury, sending him off the ice for three weeks in October. The bad-luck bookend concluded with a concussion March 10 that ended the rest of his regular season.
"It’s something you deal with as you go along," he said. "Coming back and rebounding is important. Nobody wants to be sitting in the stands, especially their first year in the playoffs."
McCulloch produced 5 goals and 12 assists in 50 games during the regular season, but he had a believer behind the bench. Stars coach Glen Gulutzan coached him in Las Vegas of the East Coast Hockey League at the end of last year, and saw enough to invite him to take a shot with Texas this season.
Gulutzan put McCulloch in a position to exploit his energy-line role, and the player was upgraded from a tryout deal to AHL pact during the season.
"That was an added bonus for me, having a familiar face around," McCulloch said. "He knows my strength, and he put me in a position to (succeed)."
McCulloch remained in position to return the favor in the postseason. The Stars’ series’ against Hamilton and Hershey have been geographically taxing, with off-days eaten up by long travel adventures. Having a pair of relatively fresher legs to burn some pressure minutes has given Texas a boost well into June.
"After six weeks (off with the concussion) you are excited about getting back in the lineup. That helped push me along," he said. "There’s other guys who have played over 100 games this year. I think the time off helped. These games are so exciting. It makes it easy to get up for them."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.