My Path to the NHL: Joe Mullen
Flyers assistant coach talks about his life growing up and making it to the NHL
Below is the third part in a series of stories, told by Mullen himself, on how he became the person he is today…
Last we left off, Joe Mullen made his NHL debut and spent the first part of his career with the St. Louis Blues. Mullen picks up his story when he got traded to Calgary, celebrating his Stanley Cup years and retiring from the sport …
PART 3: THE CUP YEARS & CALLING IT QUITS
When I got to Calgary, I quickly found out what the No. 1 sport, not just in the city, but the entire country was like… I kind of became an instant celebrity, which was a weird feeling. I would be going through the airport and people would stop, say and whisper things about you.
Obviously 1989 was a big season for me, winning the Stanley Cup. I think everything came together early in the season with a big trade to get Mark Hunter and Doug Gilmour. We knew we had a good team up until then, but there was still a piece missing and those two guys coming to our team put us over the top.
During that playoff year all of our series were pretty tough. It was one of those things where we could see ourselves taking steps higher against those teams, and especially Edmonton. Of course they were a great team – Gretzky was already gone so that was a big blow to them.
Montreal was always a big rivalry, so we had to get by them again (to win the Stanley Cup). A couple years earlier we had made it to the Final in 1986 by beating Edmonton and then losing to Montreal.
We learned a lot from that experience. We played hard throughout the four series that we had, but we just ran out of gas and like I said, we needed another piece to the puzzle.
In 1989, it was just a great run for us. We knew we had the players. We had a great season that year, winning the President’s Trophy.
BACK IN THE US
The next year I went from Calgary to Pittsburgh and that was a little different from the last time I switched teams because Calgary was so far away from home. The people in Calgary were great and it was still sad to leave because everyone there was like family.
The move to Pittsburgh was a good one at the time though. Our kids were getting older and starting school and I knew Craig Patrick and Bob Johnson, I knew I was going to a team where I knew someone already. I was excited about it because I knew they had a good core and they were going in the right direction.
Winning the Stanley Cup there, first in 1991, I found a lot of similarities to winning it with the Flames.
Pittsburgh just made a big trade to get Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson, just like Calgary made the trade to get Doug Gilmour.
Every series was tough. We just got by New Jersey in the first round and then we played Minnesota who was on a really big roll to get to the Final.
We went back and forth with the North Stars and when they got a lead in the series there were rumors that they were starting to plan a parade, so we thought to ourselves ‘I don’t think so, not just yet.’ We had a team meeting amongst ourselves and said that’s not going to happen. Mario [Lemieux] stepped up and we ended up winning the series and won the last game pretty big, 8-0.
The next season was different because teams were ready for us, but the team again made a big trade, getting Rick Tocchet and Kjell Samuelsson. He [Tocchet] played so well with Mario and Kevin Stevens, adding toughness to that already dominant line. Kjell added size on the back end.
The result was another tough path to the Stanley Cup Final, but that’s when I won my last Stanley Cup before retiring a few years later.
CALLING IT QUITS & CONTINUING A CAREER
Retirement for me was kind of sad. I loved playing hockey so much (and still do). But the body was telling me it was time. I kind of knew it in my head. For me, I kind of accepted it, but you don’t accept it at the same time because you really want to keep playing.
I tried to get into coaching right away, but they [Pittsburgh] already had their coaching staff set up, so I wound up working for the Penguins as the Alumni President for about two years.
I got to make the jump to coaching after that, and I remembering my first experience with it was that I was very nervous. It was definitely different.
I remember being on the ice with all the guys again and I found myself wanting to jump into the drills with them. You have to get into the mindset that you’re not here to play anymore - you’re here to help.
You know the one thing about retiring was that I’ve never really looked back on all of the accomplishments. I love what I do now. I mostly think about family and work.
What I’m extremely proud of career-wise is the fact that I got to play in the NHL and enjoy a long career.
Now I’m trying to help these young players here and help them win the Stanley Cup because that competitive fire still burns inside of me – you want to win at all costs.
When I’m up [in the press box] watching a game, you get attached to the guys. As far as I’m concerned that’s my teammates out there and you get fired up when things happen. You want to win just as bad.
PART 2: AN EAGLE LANDS IN THE NHL
I spent four years at Boston College (1976-79). I think the fact that I made the team as a freshman is a memory that really sticks out in my mind. I did pretty well throughout my whole career there. Everything was a progressive stage, getting used to the speed and size of all the players.
The Beanpot tournaments were tremendous. It was the first time I played in front of a large crowd like that. At the time Boston Gardens was sold out and to play in front of that many people was just a tremendous feeling.
|Joe Mullen a standout at BC (left) and his first year pro with the St. Louis Blues (right)|
From the first day I got to school, that's all you heard about. As you go along, you can really feel how the people of Boston felt about this tournament. They talked about it all the time and how great it is. I gotta admit - they weren't wrong at all. It was a really fun tournament to play in and all four schools take a lot of pride in it.
I was fortunate enough in my first tournament to win it and it was the only time.
(During Mullen’s career at Boston College he posted 110 goals and 102 assists for 212 points in just 111 games, which at the time were all school records. He was named a two-time All American, All-East and All-New England. He still holds the record for most goals scored in the annual Beanpot Tournament (10), and had his jersey retired by Boston College).
Out of Boston College a funny connection led me to the NHL. I ended up signing right out of college with the St. Louis Blues, whose GM at the time was Emile Francis, so there was a big connection going from my roots in New York to professional hockey.
At my first NHL camp I felt pretty fortunate that I knew some kids. In fact my roommate at BC (goaltender Paul Skidmore) was going, so it was nice to have someone that you already know, got to lean on and talk to there.
It was a fun experience for me. It’s not like today’s camp. There were “two-a-days” where you would skate in the morning for two hours, then you get a lunch break, but most of the time you would go home to take a nap because you were back in the afternoon skating for another two hours. I remember that my equipment was soaking wet; you would only have one pair of everything.
It was an eye-opener though. You see these veteran guys around the room, most of them you would see on TV so I was in awe a little bit from that, but once the puck dropped I got used to it – it’s all about the hockey from that point. I said to myself, ‘play your game, do what you normally do and what got you to this point.’
From camp, I ended up playing two and a half years in the minors for the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, who were the Blues affiliate in the Central Hockey League.
I finally got called up to the big club, eventually playing four and a half years in St. Louis and I loved it. It was my first experience being in the NHL so I kind of fell in love with the city and the people were great.
(During Mullen’s time with the Blues, he produced at over a point-per-game pace, recording 151 goals and 184 assists for 335 points in 301 regular season games. He was traded on Feb. 1, 1986 to the Calgary Flames for Eddy Beers, Charlie Bourgeois, and Gino Cavallini. In addition to Mullen, the Flames also received Rik Wilson and Terry Johnson).
I moved onto Calgary from there and the trade was a little devastating for me.
But once I got to Calgary they made me feel really welcome. In fact that was probably the best four years I had in the NHL...
Stay tuned to PhiladelphiaFlyers.com for Part 3 in the Joe Mullen series on his hockey career...
PART 1: IN THE BEGINNING…
I was born in New York City, right in downtown Manhattan – Hell’s Kitchen to be exact.
How did I get into playing hockey??
In New York City we probably have more cement than ice, but my dad and my uncles all played roller hockey and they were the ones that got us (me and my brothers) into the sport. So we started playing roller hockey.
|Joe Mullen and his brother Brian go back to their roots in Hell's Kitchen, NY where they began playing roller hockey.|
We began by playing because of sponsored Police Athletic Leagues and the YMCA and CYO.
I was 10 years old when I first got to play on the ice, and that’s actually when I first starting ice skating. We joined a league in West New York/New Jersey.
I remember we had to walk down to the Port Authority, jump on a bus and travel across the river to New Jersey, and then walk to the rink. The thing that I mostly remember about that is that we were all 10,11 and 12 years old kids with no parents around to travel with us, so we all had to look out for ourselves. It was a good learning and maturing experience because we knew we had to take care of ourselves. There were a total of about 10 of us traveling - we had to go together, stick together and go back together.
From there I started to play junior hockey in New York and that’s when I really thought I could pursue a career in hockey. We started to see guys come out of our league (the Metropolitan Junior Hockey Association), which was fairly new and started by New York Rangers general manager Emile Francis.
My older brothers played in it before me, so I was really following in their footsteps trying to get on that team at age 13 or 14.
I eventually got on a team in that league and we saw some kids make it to the next step, which was college.
That was the biggest step to take for me. To realize that all of these guys are going off to college, I remember thinking if I could go on to college and get a scholarship that would be my next goal.
After a few years of playing in the MJHA, I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to Boston College, where I would spend the next four years of my hockey life.