I was lucky enough to see both of the Mullen brothers play in the NHL. While Joey Mullen was certainly the more successful of the two brothers thanks to his Stanley Cup wins, Brian Mullen had himself a pretty solid career in the NHL as well. To see two brothers make it to the NHL and be successful in their own rights is pretty special, but there's usually a lot more to how the two men achieved success. In the vast majority of cases, the story starts at home while they were younger, and continues throughout their careers as they progress towards stardom.
The stories of the American-born Joey and Brian Mullen and how they reached the pinnacle of their chosen careers was examined on March 27, 1989 by Sports Illustrated's Stephen Keisling. Mr. Keisling's article is insightful, revealing, thoughtful, and warm. The two Mullens were never known for the outspoken demeanor or prolific interviewing skills, so it was nice to find a story about Joey and Brian Mullen that talked about who they were and how they got started.
For me, I was surprised that the two boys got started on roller skates playing roller hockey out on the front street. There haven't been many roller hockey players who have made the jump to NHL hockey, let alone those who play in roller skates instead of rollerblades. To make matters more complicated, it seems as though the Mullens were the original X-Gamers as they played roller derby, football, and did all sorts of grinding on their skates from the moment they got home from school until they were called in for the night!
Another surprise? Ice hockey was just beginning to catch on in Manhatten in 1966! You would have thought that the US Olympic men's hockey team and their victory in Squaw Valley in 1960 may have helped the game's push into the colder states long before 1966, but it appears not to be the case!
The Mullens grew up in Hell's Kitchen - no, not the Chef Ramsey TV show - in New York City. The area is also known as Clinton and Midtown West, but the residents still call it by its more popular name. The name itself was apparently coined by Davy Crockett in 1835 when, speaking about the residents of this area, he said, "In my part of the country, when you meet an Irishman, you find a first-rate gentleman; but these are worse than savages; they are too mean to swab hell's kitchen."
Another report has a New York Times reporter investigating a gruesome triple murder when he filed this portion of the story in the newspaper:
"He referred to a particularly infamous tenement at 39th Street and 10th Avenue as 'Hell's Kitchen', and said that the entire section was 'probably the lowest and filthiest in the city.' According to this version, 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues became known as Hell's Kitchen and the name was later expanded to the surrounding streets. Another version ascribes the name's origins to a German restaurant in the area known as Heil's Kitchen, after its proprietors. But the most common version traces it to the story of Dutch Fred The Cop, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, 'This place is hell itself,' to which Fred replied, 'Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen.'"Either way, neither of those descriptions are even close to pinpointing the behaviours and personalities of the Mullens. All four Mullen children have been described as polite and hard-working, a trait of which the residents of the area were and are fiercely proud.
Mullen was essentially the Wayne Gretzky of New York City as a 13 year-old. Mullen scored an incredible 110 goals in 40 games, and added another 79 assists - simply incredible stats! Joey played so well in the Met League over the next few years that he earned himself a scholarship to Boston College. In his freshman year, he played fairly well - 16 goals in 24 games - but his academic efforts were nowhere near his on-ice efforts. Joey Mullen met his future wife, Linda, thanks to his summer school work, and that marriage is still strong!
Brian Mullen didn't have the same goal-scoring knack as his brother, but Brian was a superb penalty killer, could read passes before they were made, and was built much bigger than Joey. His size and skills resulted in another excellent minor hockey star with the last name of Mullen. Brian was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the sixth round of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft after having worked for the New York Rangers while in school! Didn't the Rangers or Islanders know he was there?
After opting to join the Wisconsin Badgers under legendary coach Bob Johnson to hone his skating skills, Mullen went on to win the Badgers' Rookie-of-the-Year award in 1980-81, and then helped Wisconsin win the NCAA Championship one year later. After losing in the NCAA Final in '82-83, the Jets called Brian Mullen up to play the wing alongside Dale Hawerchuk, and Mullen showed his scoring touch by netting 24 goals.
After both Mullens were traded - Joey to Calgary, and Brian to his hometown New York Rangers - the Mullen parents got the thrill of their lifetime: both sons were selected to play in the 1989 NHL All-Star Game in Edmonton! They became the first American-born brothers to play in the same All-Star Game that year, and faced off as Joey was a member of the Campbell Conference while Brian played a member of the Wales Conference. Both Mullen boys would record one assist in the game, but Joey also had a pair of goals as the Campbell Conference went on to defeat the Wales Conference by a 9-5 score.
The Sports Illustrated article was, of course, written mid-1989 so there was a lot left for both men to write in their histories. Let's review the remarkable stats for Joey Mullen.
- Stanley Cup Champion in 1989 with Calgary, and in 1991 and 1992 with Pittsburgh.
- 1987 and 1989 Lady Byng Trophy winner.
- 1978 ECAC First Team All-Star and NCAA East All-American.
- CHL Rookie of the Year in 1979-80.
- CHL's top scorer with 117 points in 1980-81.
- 1989 NHL All-Star.
- First American-born player to reach 1000 points.
- First American-born player to score 500 goals.
- Lester Patrick Trophy winner in 1995.
- Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.
- 502 career goals and 561 career assists.
- 60 playoff goals and 46 playoff assists.
Mullen's comeback would be derailed for good when he suffered a seizure in March 1994. Mullen retired at the end of the 1995 season for good, putting a cap on a solid career. Brian Mullen finished his NHL days with 260 career goals, 362 career assists, 12 playoff goals, and 18 playoff assists. He was an NHL All-Star in 1989, and he got to play for both New York City teams in his career.
For two soft-spoken men from one of New York's roughest neighbourhoods, I'd say they did pretty well for themselves. Both Mullen boys should be commended for their commitment to their old neighbourhood as they both help out young hockey players there, and that's the kind of hard work that should be rewarded! Well done, Joey and Brian Mullen, on successful hockey careers in the NHL!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!