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Flames Top-10 individual seasons: Number 6

by George Johnson / Calgary Flames

Joe Nieuwendyk’s silky-soft set of mitts. Miikka Kiprusoff’s utter aplomb in the face of a tempest. Theo Fleury’s in-your-face indomitability.

From Kent Nilsson to Johnny Gaudreau, Lanny McDonald to Sean Monahan, Al MacInnis to T.J. Brodie, Joe Mullen to Jarome Iginla, over the course of over three and a half decades in this town, there have been no end of stellar turns in aid of the Flaming C cause.

So wrestling selection a Top-10 individual seasons is a chore. Many factors come into play.

Historical ramification. Sheer volume. Significance to the organization.

You’re spoiled for choice, naturally.

Some are non-negotiable.

Others calls are hellish.

The very fine Calder Trophy-calibre campaigns of Gary Suter and Sergei Makarov are absent, for instance. A sprinkling of stellar 50-goal and/or 100-point performances, as well.

More regrettable yet is the omission of the prolific yet edgy 53-goal (second highest seasonal total in franchise history), 207-PIM 1991-92 turn put in by truculent left winger Gary Roberts. A season as dynamic as this could’ve slipped in anywhere in the bottom half of the Top 10 without a word of complaint, and on many such lists would’ve.

But, well, competition being what it is …

Here, then, over the next 10 days, is one list of the 10 Calgary Flames’ seasons to most savour, that best stand the test of time, presented in descending order:

No. 6, Joe Mullen, RW, 1988-89.

79 GP, 51 G, 110 Pts, Lady Byng Trophy, Emery Edge Award (Plus-minus), NHL First All Star Team.

Other images from that never-to-be-forgotten winter invariably, for whatever reason, seem to take centre stage in the imagination.

Al MacInnis hoisting the Stanley Cup aloft and letting loose with the “I’m going to Disneyland!” tag line for TV cameras amidst the chaos on the ice at the fabled Montreal Forum, for instance.

Or Lanny McDonald peeling away from the net after scoring on Patrick Roy earlier that night, a grin on his face that would’ve rivaled Times Square on New Year’s Eve for sheer wattage.

Mike Vernon’s glove suctioning up Stan Smyl’s heart-stopping breakaway attempt in OT of Game 7 in the opening round against the Canucks. Joe Nieuwendyk taking up squatter’s rights in front of the opposition net, using that lacrosse-developed hand-eye coordination to deftly deflect pucks. Doug Gilmour’s fierce indomitably, Brad McCrimmon’s unstinting professionalism.

But taking in its entirety, Joe Mullen was Calgary’s most consistent, impactful player though its lone championship campaign.

Top to bottom. Stem to stern. Front to back. First game to last.

In an understated, intentionally-just-out-of-camera-range kinda way, of course.

And that’s saying plenty, given the loaded lineup general manager Cliff Fletcher had assembled by this final stage of construction.

Team leader in regular-season points (110) -- which to this day ranks as the second-highest aggregate in franchise lore, trailing Kent Nilsson’s unassailable 131 -- while tying for the top rung in both goals (51, alongside Joe Nieuwendyk) and assists (59, with linemate Doug Gilmour). Seven game winning tallies.

Another 24 post-season points, including a playoff-high 16 goals. A second Lady Byng Trophy -- only 16 PIM to go along with those 110 points. A first All-Star Team selection on right wing. The Emery Edge Award as the loop’s top plus-minus player (+51). Fifth in the voting for the Hart Trophy as MVP.

A windfall of attention -- more than a career’s worth of accolades for many players -- for someone so quiet and unassuming.

Opportunistic as a Wall Street sharpie, tough as old shoe leather, a pint-sized Wham-O! Super Ball of a man who’d find himself knocked on his britches to the side of the enemy’s net four times on one shift before popping up, jack-in-the-box style, to cash a game winner.

“Mully,’’ recalled McCrimmon, a no-frills, no-compromise type of guy himself, “just went out and played. Never compromised. Never complained. Could score goals, make plays. He spent a career excelling in areas of the ice a lot of guys wouldn't visit under threat of death.

“Great balance on his skates. Great desire. Great teammate.

“A little guy with a huge talent and a big heart.”

Years later, while an assistant coach in Detroit, McCrimmon would fondly compare his old teammate to Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk, a similar star of a different vintage.

“Killer (Gilmour) and Mully had (the same) traits on our old Calgary team,’’ reminisced McCrimmon. “Not the biggest players, but they wouldn’t be deterred. You could run over ‘em and they’d just get back up and keep coming.

“Nothing fazed them.”

The product from the infamous Hell’s Kitchen area of New York carved out a Hall of Fame career for himself.

“To think he came out of that environment,’’ marveled frequent Mullen lineman Colin Patterson, “not only to play in the the NHL but to accomplish the things he did … it’s mind-boggling.”

Mistakenly thought to be in decline and offloaded to the Penguins just a summer following the Cup festivities, Mullen would go on to collect two more championship rings as part of Mario Lemieux’s mini-dynasty in Pittsburgh (where Pens’ play-by-play man Mike Lange would memorably nickname him “Slippery Rock Joe" for an uncanny ability to wriggle out of scrapes and tight places on the ice).

But ’88-89 remains a cameo-keepsake. For a franchise. As well as an under-appreciated star.

No coincidence that Joe Mullen’s finest season and the Flames’ were one and the same.

“Your first Stanley Cup,’’ he’s said, often, “is special.

“Because it’s the first time you experience that type of feeling. Every time you win another one, those feelings are the same.

“But they can only be new once.”

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