One of the deans of American-born NHL players, Joe Mullen was respected wherever he laced up his skates. Standing 5'9", he wasn't big by league standards, but his will to compete and battle through injuries was formidable. He was a reliable scorer who combined patience, anticipation and a quick release to top the 40-goal mark six times in his career. Mullen earned a permanent place in hockey history by becoming the first American player to score 500 goals and 1,000 points in the NHL.
A native of New York City's notorious "Hell's Kitchen," Joe and younger brother Brian learned the game playing on roller skates and using a roll of electrical tape for a puck. He starred in the local amateur league with the 14th precinct and the Westsiders. In 1974-75, he dominated the New York metro junior league with 182 points in a mere 40 games. He was immediately offered a partial scholarship to Boston College, which became a full scholarship in his second year. That first year Mullen had to pay $700 out of his own pocket to attend, but since he was on his way to four outstanding years as an amateur and a stellar pro career, it proved to be a worthwhile investment. During his last two years with the Eagles, Mullen was placed on the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference First All-Star Team and the NCAA East First All-American Team.
Following his senior year of college, Mullen represented the United States at the 1979 World Championship, where he averaged a point per game. Just prior to the 1979-80 season, the St. Louis Blues signed him as a free agent. Mullen adjusted to the pro game with ease and was named the Central Hockey League's top rookie in 1979-80 and led the circuit in scoring with 117 points in 1980-81.
Mullen was called up to the Blues in 1981-82 and, with 59 points in only 45 games, quickly became a fan favorite. Blues general manager Emile Francis observed, "Along the boards, he's not the biggest guy in the world, but he's strong and he's got great balance." Mullen was slowed by injuries the next year but still averaged nearly a point per game. In 1983-84, Mullen broke through with 41 goals and started gaining league-wide recognition as a bona fide scorer.
Later that year he registered four points in six games while helping the U.S. reach the 1984 Canada Cup semifinals. He scored a personal high of 92 points in 1984-85, but during this period the Blues failed to make any significant headway in the playoffs.
St. Louis traded Mullen to the Calgary Flames during the 1985-86 season, much to the chagrin of many Blues fans. He adjusted quickly to his new surroundings in Alberta, helping the team reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history, where they lost in five games to the Montreal Canadiens in the spring of 1986.
Following the 1986-87 season, the respected Mullen was presented the Lady Byng Trophy. The popular forward helped the Flames finish with the most points in the NHL in 1987-88, and the following season he registered his first 50-goal year. Mullen led all NHLers in the 1989 playoffs with 16 goals and helped Calgary to its first Stanley Cup victory at the expense of the Canadiens.
He spent one more year in Alberta before he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins to contribute experience to a young and improving squad led by Mario Lemieux.
During Mullen's first year with the Penguins, he helped the team win the Stanley Cup for the first time in its history. He contributed 17 post-season points and his veteran savvy as the Pens outlasted the 1967 expansion Minnesota team in a six-game final series.
Mullen started the next year by helping the United States reach the 1991 Canada Cup final. He then scored 42 goals and helped Pittsburgh repeat as Stanley Cup winners. Mullen remained a reliable scorer with 33- and 38-goal totals in 1992-93 and 1993-94. On February 7, 1995, he delighted the home crowd at the Civic Arena by becoming the first American to register 1,000 NHL points.
The popular veteran spent the 1995-96 season with the Boston Bruins before returning to play his final NHL season in Pittsburgh. Just a few weeks before retiring, Mullen scored on Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche to become the first American to score 500 goals. When he stepped away from the game after the 1996-97 season, Mullen stood as the top scoring American of all time. But he still had one more hockey challenge left. After a disastrous showing at the 1998 World Championship, the U.S. had to qualify for the 1999 Worlds during a tournament held in the middle of the NHL season. At 42, Mullen came out of retirement to help his country regain admittance to the most important annual international hockey tournament. With more than 500 career goals and 1,000 career points, Mullen was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.
In 2000, Joe joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in an assistant coaching capacity, and remained until partway through the 2005-06 season when he was re-assigned as interim coach of the AHL Wilkes-Barre Penguins. He left for a position as assistant coach with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL in 2006-07. The following season, he was hired by the Philadelphia Flyers.