February 07, 2014

Joe Mullen Missed Out On Miracle


Joey Mullen is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in the history of American hockey. Somehow he went from playing roller hockey on the streets of Hell's Kitchen, New York to becoming an honoured member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He played in 16 NHL seasons, scoring over 500 goals and over 1000 points and winning three Stanley Cups.

But did you know Joey Mullen was almost a member of the fabled 1980 American "Miracle On Ice" Olympic team that shocked the world by winning the gold medal?

Mullen had very much been on Team USA's radar. He graduated from Boston College in 1979 and was invited to USA's team for the World Championships. Mullen had a strong showing, scoring 7 goals and 8 points in 8 games. The Americans still finished 7th in that tourney, but they had found their sniper.

Or so they thought.

Mullen was undrafted by the National Hockey League. So after an impressive college career and good showing at the Worlds he had caught the interest of the pros.

Of course the Olympics back then were strictly for amateurs, at least by the IIHF's loose definition. And that meant Mullen had to choose - play a season with the US national team and go to the Lake Placid Olympics where a gold medal seemed like a pipe dream. Or go for the money and very likely apprenticing in the minor leagues.

Mullen took the money, signing with the St. Louis Blues organization and playing in Salt Lake with the minor league Central Hockey League. And it wasn't a lot of money either, at least by today's standards. Salaries were not released back then, though there have been published reports he was given $30,000 as a signing bonus. His minor league salary probably wasn't much higher.

Though he missed out on Olympic gold and arguably the greatest sporting moment in American history, Mullen has no regrets. After that season in Salt Lake he was off to the NHL and, 16 years later, the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Mullen did represent USA at three Canada Cup tournaments - 1984, 1987 and 1991. He also came out of retirement to join Team USA at the 1999 World Championship qualifying tournament. Believe it or not, the Americans had a disastrous 1998 Worlds tournament and were forced into a qualifying tournament to return to the World Championships A pool or face relegation. The tournament was played in November so USA's NHL players were unavailable to participate. Team USA relied on American players playing in Europe as well as players coming out of retirement - including Mullen, Mark Johnson and Neal and Aaron Broten.

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