May 14, 2006

Joey Mullen

Joey Mullen quietly spent his career as one of the most complete players in the National Hockey League. He excelled at the finesse game as he was an outstanding skater and super sniper. He was dangerous with the puck, and consistent. He was a 35-45 goal threat almost every year in his prime. But he was very conscious of his defensive responsibilities and played a tough game despite his small size.

Yet Mullen was overshadowed by some of his peers. Despite having 6 consecutive 40-plus goal seasons he was only once selected for post season All Star status at right wing. Even in what everyone knew would be his final game he received next to no fanfare. That might be expected though when you retire on the same night as your teammate - Mario Lemieux!

That type of exit seemed to symbolize the career of Joe Mullen. Despite all the great contributions Joey made to his team and to hockey, he rarely got the credit he should have. The ultimate team player who never sought the individual spotlight, is now getting that recognition though. He has been elected to both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Not bad for a kid from New York’s tough Hell’s Kitchen. Who would ever guess anyone from that neighborhood would ever make the National Hockey League! He and his brother Brian (who also enjoyed a lengthy NHL career) used to have to carry axes in their equipment bags as a form of self protection.

Joe, who perfected his game on rollerblades as a kid, began at Boston College where he recorded 212 points in 111 games for the Eagles and led the team to a league title.

Mullen was never drafted by the NHL, but the St. Louis Blues were bright enough to sign the little forward to a free agent contract in 1979. He then played three years with Salt Lake of the CHL where he was named the league’s top rookie during the 1979-80 season. The following year, he led the CHL in scoring with 117 points and was named the league MVP.

Mullen made it to the "bigs" by 1981-82 and in total played parts of five seasons with St. Louis. In that time he scored 151 goals over five seasons, including back-to-back 40-goal seasons in 1984 and 1985.

Somewhat surprisingly Mullen was part of a 6 player trade that landed him in Calgary during the 1985-86 campaign. It is with Calgary that Mullen enjoyed his best years. In 1986-87, Mullen scored 47 goals and he won the Lady Byng Trophy, becoming the first American-born player to win the Trophy since 1936. He went on to post 5 consecutive season reaching the 40-goal plateau. His best year was 1988-89 when he scored 51 goals and 110 points en route to leading the Calgary Flames to their first Stanley Cup. Mullen led all post season sharpshooters that year in goals with 16. He was selected to the NHL First All-Star team and won his second Lady Byng Trophy. That year, he also became the all-time leading American-born scorer.

Mullen was traded to Pittsburgh prior to the 1990-91 season and his experience and timely offense helped lead the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. In 1991-92, he recorded his seventh season with 40-or-more goals and in 1993-94 he notched his tenth season with 30-or-more goals.

Mullen spent a couple of seasons late in his career bouncing around between Boston and Pittsburgh. He wasn't much of a scorer at that point, but he remained a leader and defensive forward.

Mullen's 16-year NHL career was spent with the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Although never flashy, he was a consistent goal scoring threat and a great team player. A gentleman on the ice, he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy on two occasions. But he will always be remembered as the first U.S.-born player to score 500 career goals and the first American to record 1,000 career points.

Joe Mullen is the arguably the greatest American born player to date. He helped generate hockey interest in the US and paved the road to success for many of today's American superstars. For his efforts Joe Mullen was named to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in September of 1998 and Hockey's Hall of Fame came calling 1999.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Joey Mullen is a class guy. I roomed next door to him at Boston College. He was a quiet leader. What a great individual.