Martin Brodeur was many things, but most of all he was the greatest goalie of his era.
Give or take a Patrick Roy or Grant Fuhr, who each arrived in the National Hockey League — and the Hockey Hall of Fame — before Brodeur, who will be inducted as part of the Class of 2018 this week.
Brodeur was, of course, a puck stopper of the highest regard, not to mention a goalie so skilled at playing the puck that the NHL changed its rulebook to mitigate the advantage he gave the New Jersey Devils. But, unlike Roy, Brodeur eschewed the current of equipment manipulation that swept through the goaltending profession, with its giant clown pants and jerseys the size of pup tents.
Where so many goalies — particularly his brethren from Quebec — adopted the butterfly style, Brodeur somehow never really did. And whereas a goalie like Ed Belfour was so eternally “focused” he could not bring himself to speak with the media on a game day, Brodeur was the anti-goalie — loose, chatty, and so normal you’d have thought he was a winger.
“The fun goalies, the guys who weren’t odd? Usually they were the backup goalies,” began retired centreman Jason Arnott, who played five seasons with Brodeur in New Jersey. “Marty was just one of the guys — like a forward or a defenceman. He did not have the kookiness that a lot of other goalies had.”
Ken Daneyko, the tougher-than-a-toe-cap defenceman who spent 11 seasons tending his business in front of Brodeur, tells this story about the relationship between a star goalie and his, er, somewhat less than starry teammate.
“I was an intense, wild guy. Wound up like a top, and very emotional,” explained Daneyko. “We’re deep in the playoffs, ’94 or ‘95, and I skate up to Marty — 2-2 game, in overtime, whatever — and I say, ‘Well Marty, if it is to be, it’s up to you and me.’
“Well, I damned well knew it was more up to Marty than me, but he would have the biggest, ear-to-ear grin on his face. He’d laugh and say, ‘You’ve got it Dano!’ It became a tradition in a big game, I’d skate back and say the same thing to him, and he’d smile that smile. We still laugh about it today.”
The things that have put Brodeur into the Hall of Fame are mostly tangible. Things you can find in a book:
Games (1,266), wins (691), shutouts (125) — all the most of any goaltender in NHL history. Four Vezina Trophies. A Calder Trophy. Three Stanley Cups. Nine all-star games. Two Olympic gold medals.
But the things that made Brodeur the person who could achieve all of that? Those are traits you need to ask around on.
Like, what was it about a goalie who emanated success? How was it that the Devils simply knew, as Arnott said, “if we played well, we would win.”
“With our D, nine times out of 10 Marty didn’t get a ton of shots,” Arnott continued. “But we knew there was always going to be that one big save, and he would always make it. Whether he got a lot of shots or not, he’d come up with that save.”
The goalie is the heartbeat of a hockey team. Brodeur expected victory every time he strapped on the pads, and it didn’t just rub off on his own team. It crept inside opponents’ heads as as well.
“There were a number of goalies in that era — Patrick Roy, Eddie Belfour, him, Curtis Joseph — who, you knew by the end of the first period sometimes, that you weren’t going to score on them. Marty was at the top of that class,” said Ken Hitchcock, whose Dallas Stars lost the 2000 Cup Final to Brodeur’s Devils.
Two years later Hitchcock was coaching Brodeur at the Salt Lake City Olympics. There, watching practice, seeing Brodeur every day from the inside of a team, Hitchcock discovered something.
“He baited the shooter,” Hitchcock said. “It looked like things were available, and then he took them away. There was a lot of psychology in it.”
There is no minimizing Brodeur’s accomplishments, not the least of which was 12 seasons in which he played 70 or more games. He was incredibly durable and despite his wont to wander after pucks, avoided injury in an uncanny way.
It is also fair to say, however, that there were many dull nights behind that dastardly New Jersey trap, worked to perfection by Hall of Fame defencemen Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens, head coach Jacques “The Mad Trapper” Lemaire, and a pack of forwards that made getting though the neutral zone like sprinting through quicksand.
No goalie of that era had more 20-shot shutouts than Brodeur, which sounds easy, right?
“It’s hard mentally, but it’s easy on the body,” said Fuhr. “I enjoyed the 35-40 shots nights, because you’re into the game all the time. Twenty shots? It’s harder to play.”
Fuhr was an acrobat, most every night. Brodeur was too — but only when it was required. You’ll never see a goalie today and say to yourself, “You know, that guy plays like Martin Brodeur.”
His style was unique. The mould is broken.
“Marty was kind of the last of the stand-up goalies,” said Fuhr. “He could go down if he wanted to, but a lot of time he stood up and made saves look easy. He didn’t waste a lot of energy making saves.
“You’re supposed to be relaxed, and you want your team to be relaxed around you.”
Like all of the greats, the many stellar parts added up to a sum that exceeded what you’d expect.
He was the best goalie on the ice most nights, both in the ability to stop pucks and set up the breakout. “He passed the puck better than most of our D-men,” Arnott laughed. But Brodeur also was the captain sans the C, and the kind of leader who — when furnished with the proper pedigree of followers — could take a team as far as it needed to go.
The playoffs were his place. Big games, his abode.
“It was always amazing how calm he was during the playoffs. It was kind of an everyday game for him,” Arnott marvelled. “It was like, ‘Why are we getting all riled up about it? This is where we should be, because we’re good.’ And that attitude floated through the whole team.”
We’ll close with this story about the Devils’ 2000 Cup run: Trailing Philadelphia 3-1 after four games of the Eastern Conference Final, on Brodeur’s advice, the Devils found a Dave & Buster’s on the off-day between Games 4 and 5.
“We all went there, had a few beers, played some indoor golf and got away from the game,” Arnott said. “I remember my brother calling me and saying, ‘Man, you’re down 3-1! What are you doing!’ And I said, ‘Well, we’re havin’ a couple of beers and playing golf…’
“He said, ‘What!’
“But he was our best player, and we looked at him and said, ‘Well, if he’s relaxed, we should be relaxed, and get back to playin’ our game.’ We came back and beat Philly, then we beat Dallas. We ended up coming back and winning the Stanley Cup.’
Brodeur allowed one goal in each of the next three games, as the Devils dispatched the Flyers. And after a 7-3 win in Game 1 of the Final, he allowed Dallas just six goals in the following five games.
Arnott scored the Cup winner in double overtime.
Of course, Brodeur was named first star of the game.