NEWARK, N.J. — Martin Brodeur tried to start his thank you speech only to be drowned out by the roaring crowd.
Finally, he stepped away from the podium and simply soaked it all in.
The New Jersey Devils retired Brodeur’s No. 30 jersey Tuesday night during a pregame ceremony, giving his adoring fans at the Prudential Center one more chance to cheer the winningest goalie in NHL history.
After serenading Brodeur with chants of “Mar-ty, Mar-ty, Mar-ty” and “Marty is better,” the sellout crowd gave him a standing ovation that lasted more than 2 minutes and grew louder by the second.
Ready to voice his appreciation, Brodeur realized he would only be muffled by the noisy din inside the arena. He eventually walked away from the microphone and waved to the crowd, as well as the players from the Edmonton Oilers and Devils who sat on their benches during the ceremony.
Finally, when the crowd quieted down at last, Brodeur thanked his former teammates, coaches – and of course, the fans.
It was a fitting celebration for a goalie who set league records for games played, shutouts, playoff shutouts, number of 30- and 40-win seasons and most wins in a season.
The Montreal native changed goaltending in the NHL and turned the Devils from a “Mickey Mouse” organization, as Wayne Gretzky once called the team, into a three-time Stanley Cup champion.
This was Brodeur’s night and he was the show for everyone in attendance.
It also was closure for the 43-year-old Brodeur, now an assistant general manager with the St. Louis Blues. After his speech, he walked with his family to the crease in front of the net and watched the banner bearing his No. 30 and his years with the team (1990-2014) get hoisted to the rafters.
After waving to the crowd with his goaltending stick raised, he walked to one corner of the arena and stood next to a statue of him that the team plans had position around the arena. With a final wave, he walked off the ice.
“This is as good as it gets,” Brodeur said after the ceremony. “I wish everybody that gets his number retired will go through a weekend like I did because it was a blast.”
Longtime Devils announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick returned to host the ceremony on a stage that had five of the NHL’s top trophies in front of it, including the Stanley Cup.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Devils owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, and Brodeur’s family were on the ice along with former Devils coaches Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson, goaltending coach Jacques Caron, and former defencemen Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko, the only three other Devils players to have their jersey retired.
Bettman, of course, was booed. But he also was right on point in thanking Brodeur for his service.
“Marty, you stopped the puck like no one before you and I dare say no one to come after you,” Bettman said, later calling Brodeur: “The greatest goaltender in the history of this franchise, if not the history of this sport.”
Lamoriello, now general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, had one of the funniest lines before introducing a 5-minute tribute narrated by actor Keifer Sutherland.
The architect of the Devils’ rise to the top of the NHL, Lamoriello was greeted by chants of “Louuuu!”
After getting to the microphone he looked at Bettman and said, “Commissioner, that’s not the same reaction you got.”
Daneyko said Brodeur was unflappable as a goalie, and Patrik Elias said there was no doubt in his mind Brodeur “was the heart and soul of this organization.”
When Brodeur eventually got to speak, he talked to his teammates, said Caron was like a second father to him and that Lamoriello made him a champion. Brodeur also made sure to thank the fans for all their chants of “Marty is better!”
Before his No. 30 jersey was raised, Brodeur took off his suit jacket and donned his Devils sweater.
“It was probably the first time I was nervous on that ice,” Brodeur quipped later. “It was fun, though. It was well done.”