Mullen gained 20 pounds and scored at least a goal a game his last two seasons at B.C. By the end of his senior year, several NHL teams were wooing him as a free agent, including the Rangers. So it was that Tom Mullen, at work in the Garden one spring day in 1979, heard himself paged over the loudspeaker and summoned to the executive suite. He assumed he was going to be chewed out or let go. In fact, the Rangers' president, the late William Jennings, wanted to know what his son's plans were—whether he would accept an invitation to Herb Brooks' Olympic camp or sign a pro contract immediately. To no one's surprise, Joe took the money, but signed with the Blues instead of the Rangers.
In a sense, the devil made him do it—and not a devil with a Blues' dress on. Hell's Kitchen got its name from the lime kilns, glue factories and abattoirs that flourished there during the 19th century, and from vice of the most insidious kind. Kids grew up alcoholics without realizing it, having been weaned on the milk of cows that drank from distilleries' effluents. Parking lots and motels have sprung up since the 1950s, giving the precinct a tamer cast; it may be only Heck's Kitchen now. "But there was dope around, and everything else," says Marion Mullen. "Fortunately my kids were involved enough in sports not to want that stuff."
Tom Mullen was one of the crewmen who smoothed out the ice between periods at the old Garden. They marched four and five abreast carrying shovels and pushing water barrels. ( Zamboni sono buoni.) Tom, 58, had a stroke three years ago and now wields a broom instead of a shovel. Two other sons are also in hockey: Tom Jr., 26, plays for Salem (Va.) in the Atlantic Coast League, and Brian, a sophomore at Wisconsin, has already been drafted by Winnipeg. Last week he helped lead the Badgers into the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. Ken, 30, is a stagehand on the set of As the World Turns. A daughter, Debbie, 22, works in a Manhattan car dealership. And Marion is an usherette at the Broadhurst Theatre, seating audiences for the Broadway hit Amadeus.
"One night in March 1980 my mother was at home in bed and the back wall went boom," says Joe. "It just fell into the yard. Looking at the back was like looking into a dollhouse." The Mullens moved a few blocks away. But because of the state of their old building, they salvaged only necessities. Vandals claimed what remained—much of their furniture and about 200 of the boys' trophies.
Joe was in Salt Lake City at the time, busy winning the Rookie of the Year award in the Central Hockey League. Last season he led the CHL in scoring and was named Player of the Year, yet he never got a chance to play with the parent club. The 1980-81 Blues were such a delicately balanced bunch that management didn't dare bring him up. St. Louis confounded the league, finishing second in the overall standings, thanks to Mike Liut's goaltending and top-of-the-charts penalty killing and shorthanded scoring. But this year defensive liabilities have left the Blues with a 29-38-7 record and taken some of the luster from Mullen's rookie season. Still, he has had five two-goal games, two of which are particularly memorable. Against Minnesota on Jan. 5, he set a club record for the fastest two scores in a game by getting his first and second NHL goals within eight seconds. Seven weeks later, Mullen's wife, Linda, was rushed from Joe's fourth two-goal performance to have the couple's first child, a son, Ryan Patrick. "He could have called the baby Ryan Hattrick if he'd scored one more," says Francis.
Mullen himself is Mugsy to his St. Louis teammates, but Mono—Spanish for monkey—to Julio Quinones and Pepe Garcia, his linemates on the Westsiders. If you're wondering whether the NHL's first Puerto Rican superstar is brewing on a back burner in Mullen's old neighborhood, you may not have to wait for a cold day in hell to find out.