Surprisingly, Martin Brodeur said the wait actually got easier as October turned into November, rather than more difficult.
“Over the last month, it really helped me that the phone was ringing, that I was getting calls from a lot of teams, just checking out where I was at,” he told Sportsnet.ca Wednesday night. “Teams were informing themselves on me. So I was still on the radar. Mentally, that made it easier.
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“But I learned that you can’t get over-excited by conversations you have with people.”
Finally, the call he’d been hoping for since July came Wednesday morning, an invitation from the St. Louis Blues to join the club on a tryout basis, starting Friday.
“I really waited until they set up the flight for me. Then I said to myself, ‘This is real, then,’” he said. “For the first time in a long time, I’m nervous. Things were always set for me. I just showed up. Now it’s different. I’m looking forward to that experience.
“I didn’t like the way things ended last year in New Jersey. Twenty years from now, at least now I’ll be able to say I gave it my best to play one more year.”
The 42-year-old netminder is the NHL’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts. He’s won three Stanley Cups with the Devils, and backstopped Canada to a gold medal victory at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
He has done it all. Still, however, he wants to show he can do more. An injury to Brian Elliott may knock the Blues goalie out for a few weeks, and Brodeur is anxious to demonstrate he can step in and at the very least be a backup to Jake Allen.
“To go in on a tryout at this point doesn’t feel weird,” he said. “It would have felt weird to try out in training camp. It’s gonna be a short-term thing, a few practices. They’re at home against Edmonton on Friday, then Saturday they’re in Minny. Tuesday they’re in Chicago for the start of a road trip and I think we’ll know by then. I’m not gonna stay there two weeks. It’ll mostly be morning skates, so I don’t really know what they’re going to look at.
“But I’m excited to get back on the ice. I’ve been skating a lot, and I don’t think I’m that far off from playing shape.”
Jordan Binnington and Matt Climie have been playing goal for the Blues’ minor league affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, and neither has any experience in the NHL. The decision on Brodeur, then, will come down to a combination of how injured Elliott is, and how game-ready Brodeur may be.
“They just said (Elliott) is hurt. They didn’t get into detail how bad it is,” said Brodeur. “There’s obviously a reason they’re bringing me in. I’m just glad they picked me out of the goalies that are out there.”
Brodeur has some long-term relationships in the St. Louis organization with GM Doug Armstrong, head coach Ken Hitchcock, assistant coach Kirk Muller and team executive Al MacInnis, which obviously helped.
He’s stayed quiet for months, preferring not to discuss his situation with the media, and even turned down an invitation to appear on Hockey Night in Canada when the season opened. His preference all along was to go to a Western Conference team, but admitted he realized he was going to have to be less “picky” if he hoped to play again.
“Going west was one of my priorities. I didn’t want to be in the east if possible,” he said. “Playing in New Jersey, or playing against the Devils, that would be tough for me. It would break my heart to get booed in that building. I don’t know if that would happen, but I wouldn’t want it to.”
He saw St. Louis as a viable option all along, particularly after the Blues cut ties with Ryan Miller after last season.
“They didn’t see it that way. Not until now,” said Broduer, who played 39 games for the Devils last season with a 2.51 goals-against-average and a .901 save percentage.
He’s been skating for weeks in the practice rink adjacent to the Prudential Center in Newark with Scott Gomez, another former Devil hoping for a contract with New Jersey or another club. Jon Merrill and Adam Henrique were also involved when they were injured, but of late, it’s just been Gomez and Brodeur.
“The difference for games is there will be a few more people involved,” he laughed.
While sitting and waiting, Brodeur spent time visiting his two sons, both of who are playing major junior hockey in Canada. Anthony, 19, was recently let go by Gatineau of the QMJHL and claimed by Drummondville. Jeremy, 18, is the backup for the Oshawa Generals, the No. 1 rated CHL team this week. Anthony was drafted by the Devils last June, Jeremy is draft eligible next June.
“It helped to keep moving around, for sure. There were days I was thinking I wasn’t going to get another chance. I won’t lie to you. But (agent) Pat (Brisson) did a great job keeping me positive,” he said. “Pat kept telling me there were teams interested. I don’t know if he was telling me the truth, but it helped.”
He’s got a plain white CCM mask ready to use in St. Louis, along with pads that have “just a little red” on them. But he isn’t viewing this as his last possible chance.
“I think i’m showing I want to play,” he said. “Hopefully this will open the eyes of someone else if the Blues decide they don’t want me. But I’ll do everything in my power to make them want me.
“I want to finish on a good note, and try something different. This is exactly what I wanted.”