February 16, 2014

Brian Mullen On Life After A Stroke

Raised in Hell's Kitchen, New York, Brian Mullen and his more famous older brother Joe grew up together playing roller hockey. They made the move from road to ice after watching his sibling thrive at the rink.

It wasn't exactly a smooth transition, as he recalls it.

"When I was four, I played roller hockey, trying to learn how to skate," said Mullen, who went on to play two seasons with the University of Wisconsin. "By the end of the day, I had a pillow in my pants so my butt wouldn't hurt. I didn't start ice-skating until I was about eight. There weren't many rinks in Hell's Kitchen."

A lack of facilities and experience didn't diminish his enthusiasm for the game. Once he did get on the ice, he was one of the best. He grew up dreaming of the playing at Madison Square Gardens with the New York Rangers. As a kid he landed a job as the visiting team stickboy at MSG (thanks to his father Tom, who was a maintenance man at MSG). He did that job from 1977-79, including for the Soviets in the 1979 Challenge Cup.

After two seasons of collegiate hockey under the legendary coach, the late Bob Johnson, Mullen, was drafted 128th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1980. Soon enough he would find himself on left wing with the great Dale Hawerchuk.

Mullen played five seasons with the Jets before joining the Rangers in 1987-88, the team he grew up dreaming of playing for. The former New York Junior Hockey League grad played four seasons at Madison Square Gardens.

In 1991-92 Mullen joined the San Jose Sharks expansion franchise for two seasons, leading them in scoring in year one.

Then he returned home, sort of, to New York. Only this time he went to Long Island and played for the New York Islanders, helping them upset the two-time Stanley Cup champions in 1993.

But I had completely forgot that his career came to an end due to a stroke.

From CBS Pittsburgh:

“My career was going great, and that summer, towards the end of the summer about a month away from training camp starting again, I had a stroke and just out of the blue, it turned my life upside down,” Mullen said. Mullen added that the stroke was caused by a blood clot that formed during the playoff series against the Penguins, and eventually the embolism passed through the hole in his heart and caused the stroke.

Once Mullen found out that he could lead a normal life, he turned his attention towards trying to return to the ice.

“I wanted to make my way back. I had to have the open-heart surgery,” Mullen said. “I had to wait six weeks for the breastbone to heal, and I was on the blood thinners. Once everything cleared up I got right back on the ice.”

Mullen said that he was just about ready to resume his career in the minors when he suffered a seizure.

“They flew me out of the Coliseum there to a hospital, because nobody knew exactly what was going on, but it was a seizure that was caused by the scar tissue left up from the stroke,” Mullen said.

Here's the full, scary story.

Mullen is fine now as he had the hole in his heart repaired. He took the security of a scouting job for the Islanders and ending his career as he had a young family. He later worked for the NHL, directing their off-ice programs, and as a broadcaster.

In all, Mullen appeared in 832 career NHL games, recording 260 goals and 622 points, along with 30 post-season points in 62 games.

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