3-time champ says Flyers can succeed

Joe Mullen, a Flyers assistant, won the Cup with Calgary and Pittsburgh.
Joe Mullen, a Flyers assistant, won the Cup with Calgary and Pittsburgh.
Posted: May 28, 2010

The most decorated member of the Flyers' organization has a thick New York accent, plies his trade in relative anonymity, and couldn't be more unassuming.

The name of Joe Mullen, a Flyers assistant coach whose primary responsibility is the power play, is etched into the Stanley Cup three times. He won it with Calgary in 1989 and twice with Pittsburgh, in 1991 and '92.

Clearly, then, Mullen knows what it takes to survive the most grueling tournament in professional team sports. He is convinced that the Flyers have what it takes - talent, leadership, and togetherness - to upset the Chicago Blackhawks in what should be a fascinating duel for the Cup that begins Saturday in Chicago.

"You have to have the talent, of course, but it's just as important to have team unity, to have guys who are all on the same page, buying into the system, and wanting to do whatever it takes to win," Mullen said. "You have to have a whole team of guys feeling that way, not just a few.

"I do think this team has the makeup to do it. The main reason we're here is because all 25 guys are pushing in the same direction."

Mullen, 53, also knows leadership and mental toughness when he sees it. He should. Those qualities frequently define players who become Hall of Famers.

After a career in which he became the first American-born player to reach 500 goals and 1,000 points, Mullen was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, the first year he was eligible.

Mullen said the Flyers are well-stocked with natural leaders.

"There are definitely enough leaders here, and they're all stepping up," he said. "Mike Richards, [Chris] Pronger, Kimmo [Timonen], Gags [Simon Gagne], Danny Briere. The other guys tend to follow players like them."

As for mental toughness, Mullen said that question was answered during the Eastern Conference semifinals, when the Flyers became the third team in NHL history to overcome a deficit of three games to none in a seven-game series.

Mullen said the coaching staff has warned the Flyers of the potential distractions that come with playing in the Cup Finals and how important it is to set them aside and keep their eyes on the prize.

"There's a huge potential for a lot of distractions," he said. "There's all the media attention and worldwide attention you get when you're in the Finals. You have families and friends who want to be there and want to be a part of it. People come out of the woodwork all of a sudden. There's a lot of stuff that gets piled on that a lot of people don't see, and you've got to kind of push that off to the side, let it take care of itself, and just concentrate on hockey. We've addressed it with the players."

Mullen's passion for the game began while he was growing up in the tough Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan, where he played on roller skates using a roll of electrical tape for a puck. He went to Boston College on a partial hockey scholarship. The money for the rest of his tuition his freshman year, which he recalled being about $700, came out of his own pocket.

Herb Brooks wanted Mullen for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that miraculously won the gold medal, but he declined the offer and signed a free-agent contract with St. Louis. As he began piling up goals, he became a curiosity, because no American-born player before him was as accomplished.

Asked about his Stanley Cup years, Mullen first brought up 1986. It was his first trip to the Finals with Calgary, and the Flames lost to Montreal. Perhaps it was his way of suggesting that losing in the Finals can be as painful as winning can be joyful.

"But the bond that forms among teammates who win it remains through the years," he said.


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo

at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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