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Old Man Of Penguins One Of A Kind

He’s the smallest guy in the locker room - and the oldest. But he’s the one everyone wants to talk to. That usually happens only with special players.

Joe Mullen grew up on roller skates in Hell’s Kitchen, one of the toughest areas of New York City. It wasn’t uncommon for boys to be killed in that neighborhood. But Joe and his brother Brian survived, both making it to the NHL.

And even though he is about to celebrate his 38th birthday, Mullen can more than keep up with the competition. The two assists he handed out last week against the Florida Panthers made him hockey’s 42nd 1,000-point scorer and the first American-born player to reach that lofty plateau. The two goals he scored later in the game helped the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 7-3 victory.

“He’s a freak of nature, like Nolan Ryan,” linemate John Cullen says. “He has still got a lot of life in his legs. He can probably play for five more years.”

Mullen suffers the same aches and pains as most of us. But he isn’t about to hang up that sweater when he still can skate circles around most players.

“What does old feel like?” he says. “I mean, you have days when you get out of bed and say, `What the hell am I doing playing this game?’ But then I go down to the rink and see a 22-year-old getting rubbed down in the trainer’s room and say, `He’s having the same kind of day I had last week.’ Most days, I don’t even think about age, only goals.”

Mullen doesn’t plan to stay around long enough to play on the same team with his son Ryan, 13, like Gordie Howe did with his sons Mark and Marty. But playing at 40 is a goal.

“Being the first American to score 1,000 points is an achievement that has driven me to keep my game at a high level,” Mullen says. “Someday Pat LaFontaine or Jeremy Roenick or Phil Housley or Brian Leetch is going to pass me. But I guess the competitive spirit in me wants to set a goal for them that is going to be more difficult to break.”