Michael Gwizdala The Hockey Writers
Martin Brodeur: Keeper Of New Jersey
This article was originally written in February, 2016.
When one thinks of ways to describe Martin Brodeur, many words come to mind. Stanley Cup champion. Gold medal winner. Vezina Trophy winner. Workhorse. Consistent. Clutch. Class. You don’t have to take my word for it, you could ask some of Marty’s teammates: and that’s just what I did.
Brodeur: A Rookie in Name Only
In the 1993-94 campaign, Brodeur became the first player in New Jersey Devils’ history to win the Calder Trophy. “I don’t really remember him as a rookie, he had an air about him, a confidence about him,” said teammate and right-winger John MacLean of Brodeur, who posted a .915 save percentage, 2.40 goals-against average and three shutouts that season.
That squad was the first Devils team to eclipse 100 points in a season, finishing with 106 and a plus 86 goal differential. It was a team solid in all aspects of the game, as MacLean noted, “We all had good offensive numbers and we used the system to our advantage. Marty made some pretty big and timely saves and deserves all of the accolades. We were as lucky to play with him as he was with us.”
Brodeur and that veteran mix went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. “The timing of him being there coincided with our run. He fit in seamlessly,” said MacLean. Along the way, Brodeur would post a 49-save effort against the Buffalo Sabres, record his first shutout against the Boston Bruins and register a 46-save outing in the aforementioned contest against the New York Rangers.
Brodeur, a Model of Consistency
One would imagine such a loss would have a profound negative impact on a young player but such was not the case the following season with Brodeur.
“Marty had all the attributes, kept the same demeanor and was unflappable in net,” said former teammate and legendary Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko. “He was the right guy, at the right time with the right mentality,” added MacLean.
He certainly was, after losing the season finale on the road a year before, Brodeur helped backstop the Devils to a postseason record ten road victories and their first Stanley Cup title in 1994-95. “The run with Marty was great, we built a great team which was all about winning. The team came first and guys made sacrifices,” said Daneyko. During that run, Brodeur bested all playoff goalies with 16 wins, three shutouts, 1,222 minutes played, a .927 save percentage and a 1.67 goals-against average.
Not only was Brodeur with New Jersey for 21 seasons, he was a constant in net on a nightly basis.
Said Daneyko of Brodeur’s presence, “If you don’t have a stabilizing force in net, it’s tough to win. It’s all about consistency.”
Throughout his time with the Devils, Brodeur led all netminders in games played, six times, wins, nine times, shutouts, five times and minutes, seven times. Figure this, from 1993 to 2014, the Philadelphia Flyers, who consistently battled the Devils for Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference supremacy, had just four seasons of at least 60 games played, by four different goalies (Dominic Roussel, John Vanbiesbrouck, Martin Biron, Steve Mason).
“Marty was consistent and never let anything snowball. His consistency gave us a chance to win and was remarkable at the most important position,” said Daneyko.
Brodeur’s the Best
Contrary to popular belief, those Devils teams could fill up the net. In 2000-01, the club finished first in goals, in 1999-00, 1998-99 and 1993-94, they finished second. Serving as a “third defenseman,” Brodeur added to that rush.
“His puck handling ability made other teams frustrated,” said MacLean.
“With his puck handling, the “Marty rule” [trapezoid] was put in place because of something he perfected. It helped the defense and forwards immensely,” added Daneyko. “He made the game easier, you knew where to go, gave head nods on where to be and saved defensemen from getting our heads smashed in.”
Brodeur also found his name on the scoresheet with alacrity, notching two goals and 45 helpers in the regular season, while adding one goal and 12 assists in the postseason.
Always One Step Ahead
In addition to revolutionizing the position as a puck handling netminder, Brodeur played with a different style than a traditional standup or new age butterfly goalie. Brodeur was clutch when he needed to be and kept opponents guessing.
“Marty thought the game like no one else. You could never get a book on him,” said MacLean, who managed to score one goal against his former teammate, as a member of the 1998-99 Blueshirts. “He could make you outthink yourself. He was as successful at the cat and mouse game as anyone.”
During the 2002-03 postseason, Brodeur left opponents scratching their heads, registering a record seven shutouts.
“Marty made saves with great timing with the scoreboard,” noted Daneyko. “If it was a tight game, he’d make saves that would change the complexion of the game and take the pressure off. He did what the great one’s do and he’s arguably the best of all time.”
Brodeur the Man
From his earliest days to the present, Brodeur has remained a class act, representing the face of the Devils franchise, even from behind a mask.
“We played our first game together against Boston,” said former Devils forward Jim Dowd. “Marty was a great guy, we played in Utica together too. He’s arguably one of the best.”
Matt Ruchty was also teammates with Brodeur on the Utica Devils and had this to say of the young netminder, “Marty was highly regarded, quiet, worked hard. Marty was a good teammate and a good goalie.”
“Marty was a nice guy, a classy individual,” said former Devils radio play-by-play announcer John Hennessy. “One night our flight got delayed and the hotel kitchen was closed but Marty was there and said, “Hey are you hungry?” Marty knew the guy who owned the place and had the guy open it up and of course paid for it.”
Perhaps because he could play the puck like a skater, Brodeur wasn’t quirky like most goalies, as MacLean remembers.
“He was the first normal goalie on and off the ice,” said MacLean. “He was just one of us, fun playing with.”
So how will the usually unflappable Brodeur react when his uniform No. 30 is raised into the rafters at Prudential Center? Daneyko, who has experience in this department, imparted his thoughts.”
“He’s excited and nervous, understands how special it is to get his number retired and a statue like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Hull,” said Daneyko. “He was the greatest Devil, very humble and it was an honor to be a teammate. He was a special athlete and special to play with, the greatest.”
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