Brian Mullen, brother of Hockey Hall of Famer Joey Mullen, was raised in the Hell's Kitchen borough of New York City. He grew up playing roller hockey and made the change to the ice game after seeing his older brother play. Brian's father helped him get a job at Madison Square Garden as the stickboy for the visiting teams.
Brian left New York for an education at the University of Wisconsin. He played for the Badgers under their coach, Bob Johnson. This, in turn, led to the Winnipeg Jets signing Mullen to a contract for 1982-83. The Jets put him on left wing with Dale Hawerchuk and the result was a 50-point rookie season. He kept that spot for the five seasons he played in Winnipeg.
He joined the New York Rangers for the 1987-88 season. This time, he was a regular in the home dressing room of Madison Square Garden. For four seasons he provided the steady production that marked his career. Unfortunately, the Rangers remained mired in their lack of post-season success.
When the NHL expanded to San Jose for the 1991-92 season, Brian Mullen became a Shark. In the first year of the club, he was second in team scoring. In 1992-93, he began playing for the biggest rival of his boyhood Rangers, the New York Islanders. That team produced one of the biggest upsets in modern Stanley Cup play when the Islanders eliminated the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The series went seven games before the Islanders pulled off the upset in overtime.
Brian Mullen was not able to help the Islanders build on that springtime success. On August 9, 1993, he suffered a small stroke. For a brief time, he was unable to do the ordinary everyday things, like hold a set of car keys. The cause was determined to be a hole in his heart through which a blood clot had traveled to his brain. Amazingly, within two months of having open-heart surgery, Mullen was back on skates with a dream of returning to hockey.
In March 1994 he received word that the Islanders wished to send him to the minors for conditioning. Five minutes later, he suffered a seizure that ended his comeback attempt. A year later, his retirement as a player became official.