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Penguins Mullen's U.S. legacy honored by the Hall

Tuesday, November 14, 2000

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

TORONTO -- True to his famous shooting style, Joe Mullen delivered his Hall of Fame acceptance speech quickly and made his point.

"I was able to play in the NHL, and I loved every minute of it," he told the 1,000 or so hockey dignitaries jammed into the storied Great Hall last night. "It was the best time of my life."



The Mullen File

Became the first -- and only -- American-born player to score 500 goals, notching the milestone March 14, 1997 at Colorado.

Ranks second all-time among American-born players with 1,063 points (502 goals, 561 assists).

Scored 51 goals with Calgary in the 1988-89 season.

Won the Lady Byng Trophy (sportsmanship) in 1986-87, 1988-89.

Won the Lester Patrick Trophy (outstanding service to hockey in the United States) in 1998.

Named first-team NHL All-Star in 1988-89. 

Was the NHL's plus/minues leader in 1988-89.

Had 11 career hat tricks.


The top five American-born goal-scorers in NHL history:





Joe Mullen



Pat LaFontaine



Jeremy Roenick



Mike Modano



Ed Olczyk





Red Kelly


Tim Horton


Andy Bathgate


Leo Boivin


Scotty Bowman


Bob Johnson


Mario Lemieux


Bryan Trottier


Joe Mullen



To be sure, Mullen didn't bring down the house with his oratory work for the three-plus minutes he stood on stage, looking more than a bit jittery. But then, it's straying far from character for a quiet man such as Mullen to engage in any sort of excessive celebration or self-congratulations.

"It was a little more nerve-racking than I thought it would be," he said afterward. "That was tough."

On this night, it didn't matter.

Plenty of others were eager to sing the necessary praise for Mullen and fellow inductee Denis Savard, a flashy forward who had his finest seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Joey was a great competitor, a guy who really changed the outlook of our team when he came to Pittsburgh in the early 1990s," said Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, his teammate then and boss now. "I had a lot of great years with Joey, and I feel privileged to have played with him. It's great that he's here."

"The numbers are reason enough to induct Joe Mullen, but it's the legacy that makes him special," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "To tens of thousands of youngsters across the United States, it was Joe Mullen who fueled their dreams, made them believe they could make it. And there could be no better role model. No one worked harder to get where he is."

It was a long and unusual path to enshrinement.

Mullen, 43, grew up in a poor section of New York known as Hell's Kitchen, learning the game via roller skates on cement playgrounds. He first stepped onto an ice rink at the late age of 10, adapting quickly enough to become a star at Boston College. And, although he wasn't drafted and despite his 5-foot-9 stature, he made it to the NHL.

He signed with the St. Louis Blues as a free agent in 1979, toiled through two-plus seasons in the minor leagues and went on to play 16 years in the NHL, six with the Penguins. He retired in '97 with 502 goals and 561 assists in 1,062 games, plus three Stanley Cup championships, one with the Calgary Flames and two with the Penguins.

But high atop his resume, and without a doubt the main reason he reached the Hall in his first year of eligibility, was he achieved it as an American. He was the first player born in the United States to reach 1,000 points, and he remains atop the goal-scoring list for Americans.

Today, he is a rookie assistant coach with the Penguins.

And now, a Hall of Famer.

"It's kind of mind-boggling, really," Mullen said. "I look around here and see all these great names, and now I'm in their category."

Mullen bristled at many of the plaudits he received yesterday, particularly the notion that he blazed a path for Americans in the NHL.

"I don't think I feel that way," he said. "I always felt I was just happy to be in the league. I didn't go out thinking I was paving the way for other Americans. But if anybody wants to say that, that's OK with me because it's an honor to be considered in that way."

In his speech, the preparation for which caused him agony for weeks, Mullen opened with an emotional appreciation for Emile Francis, a longtime former NHL general manager who was in attendance last night. Francis helped Mullen and his three brothers by starting a hockey league in New York in the 1970s.

"Once in your lifetime, you find a person who changes your life," Mullen said of Francis. "His dream was to draft a kid out of that league and eventually get him into an NHL uniform. The thing that Mr. Francis did for all us city kids was give us a chance to play some games, give some kids a reason to think about college. He gave us his dream. And for 16 years, I lived his dream in the NHL."

Mullen acknowledged the many friends and relatives who traveled from Pittsburgh, New York and Boston to be with him.

"If you've been around Toronto for the past couple of days, you've seen half of Hell's Kitchen up here."

He saved his warmest words for his wife, Linda, sons, Ryan, Michael and Patrick, and daughter Erin.

"My wife has been by my side for 20 years now, every step of the way with me. And my children ... I've been away quite a bit for a long time, but I thank you for understanding."

Shortly after that, Mullen could mercifully step away from the podium and call it a night.

That doesn't mean he won't be back, of course. He'll always have a second home at the corner of Yonge and Front streets, where fans now and in the future can learn all about the most accomplished American player of his generation.

"It's hard to describe how I feel right now," Mullen said in a private moment after the ceremony. "This is as big as it gets. From Hell's Kitchen to the Hall of Fame."


NOTES -- In one comment praising Mullen, Lemieux might have been taking a jab at Penguins captain Jaromir Jagr: "Joey was always a team player, a guy who always put the team ahead of personal stats. We could use a few more players like that today." ... Three other men were inducted. In the builders' category: Walter Bush Jr., executive director of USA Hockey. In the media category: Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal and Bob Miller, voice of the Los Angeles Kings. ... Total number of players in the Hall is 220. ... Mullen has missed the Penguins' past two games because of Hall ceremonies, but he expects to rejoin them for the game Thursday in St. Louis. ... Among those eligible for election next year are Dale Hawerchuk, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Mike Gartner, Slava Fetisov, Pat LaFontaine and Rod Langway. ... A group of NHL general managers met here yesterday, and a consensus emerged that too much diving has accompanied the league's crackdown on obstruction. Expect more unsportsmanlike conduct penalties to be issued to players who clearly embellish when they are fouled.

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