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Joe Mullen made history with milestone goal

Became first United States-born player to score 500 in NHL on March 14, 1997

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Joe Mullen still can see the moment he made hockey history.

At 16:01 of the second period on March 14, 1997, Mullen, a forward with the Pittsburgh Penguins, was camped in front of Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy. 

"It was against Colorado in Colorado, it was a tip-in in front of the net," Mullen said. "I was struggling at the time. Just people kept telling me go to the net. Chris Tamer shot it."

The goal was Mullen's 500th in the NHL. The New York City native became the first United States-born player to reach the milestone.

"There was a lot of relief because it was dragging on all year," said Mullen, who was 40 years old at the time and in his 16th and final NHL season. "It was getting late in the season. You tighten up your stick a little bit."

Video: Memories: Mullen becomes first American to score 500

Mullen scored two more goals in his final 10 games to finish with 502 in 1,062 games with the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Penguins and Boston Bruins.

"I guess when you're the first to do anything it means something," Mullen said. "At the time it was the milestone I was going after. I knew it was a big one. It was one I struggled to get a little bit. Made it nicer and more of a relief than anything to get it over with."

Mullen left New York for Boston College in 1975, and never was drafted into the NHL. After graduating college, he signed with the St. Louis Blues in 1979 and started his professional career with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles in the Central Hockey League in 1979-80.

He reached the NHL in his third professional season, and had 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists) in 45 games with the Blues in 1981-82. He went on to score at least 40 goals seven times, topped by 51 with the Flames in 1988-89.

When Mullen reached the NHL, he was the rare U.S.-born star. When he retired after the 1996-97 season, the League landscape had changed markedly, with American players like Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk considered among the game's best.

"I think there was a little extra pressure on us at that time," Mullen said of his early days in the League. "Wasn't a whole lot of Americans that had gone through the NHL when I first came into the League. I was kind of like with that [1980] Olympic team. They were coming in and I came in just after them."

Mullen finished his NHL career with 1,063 points, and was the first U.S.-born player to reach 1,000 points.

Video: Memories: American-born Mullen tallies 1,000th point

He won the Stanley Cup three times, with the Flames in 1989 and the Penguins in 1991 and 1992. He also won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1987 and 1989, the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to hockey in the United States in 1995, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.

Twenty years after becoming the first U.S.-born player with 500 NHL goals, Mullen, now an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, said he doesn't see himself as a pioneer or a role model.

"I just wanted to be a good player in the League and strived to be that," he said. "I just kind of let things happen that way. Just tried to take care of my own business."

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