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Top 100 Goalies: No. 3 — Martin Brodeur

The winningest goalie in NHL history came through in the clutch with three Stanley Cups. Of course he was supremely skilled, but the secret to his success was his easygoing nature.

For those lucky enough to have seen Martin Brodeur in his prime, two aspects of his game stood out.

There was his combination of elasticity and quickness, almost inexplicable in a 6-foot-2, 220-pound goaltender who was occasionally called pudgy by frustrated, undiscriminating opponents. The classic example was his “scorpion” save on Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference final in which Brodeur made a blind stop by kicking his right leg in the air while on his stomach diving out from the crease.

And there was Brodeur’s precision positioning, a trait he perfected with the help of longtime goalie coach and personal guru Jacques Caron. There is a difference between meticulous positioning and robotic goaltending, a fine line that can determine greatness.

But there is one attribute, combined with those skills, that almost certainly set Brodeur apart from other greats and helped him rewrite the NHL record book and become a national hero in Canada for his Olympic exploits. It is the Montreal native’s easygoing personality, which, when he needed it most, kept his burning desire to succeed in check and hidden below the surface.

Throughout his career, except on rare occasions, Brodeur made himself available to the media almost up until the pre-game warmups. Most goalies never speak on game days, including at the morning skate.

 BACK HOME Brodeur had his jersey retired by the Devils in February 2016.Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

BACK HOME Brodeur had his jersey retired by the Devils in February 2016.Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

There where many times when the crowds of reporters could’ve been overwhelming, as they were in March 2009 leading up to Brodeur tying Patrick Roy with his 551st career victory. “I was coming back from the big injury,” Brodeur recalled of a torn biceps near his left elbow sustained in November of the 2008-09 season. “I didn’t play much that year, so I was really focusing on getting my game together. Maybe that really helped me that week. I know people were anxious about me doing a lot of off-ice stuff, but I was able to run the table and win games. I was able to tie him right away and beat him right away, so I didn’t have to sit on it for a while. That really helped.

“What was nice was how my teammates embraced that situation and how they played so well in front of me for two weeks. That was the first time I missed four months, 16 weeks of hockey. I missed 50 games that year. Coming into Montreal was hectic with press conferences and a lot of people and family around. I was happy to get the win and not disappoint anybody.”

On March 14, 2009, he defeated the Canadiens for No. 551. With Roy at the press conference and in attendance for the game, Brodeur was relaxed and accommodating. And it carried onto the ice. “The more distractions you have, the more focus you get,” he said. “You put your focus on what you can control, and for me it was hockey. On the ice with my teammates for me was getting away from that zoo. You have to give a lot of credit to my teammates and the coaches and how they handled it. Because all the attention was on me for a week. Not everybody likes that. They embraced it. You could tell in their faces when I broke the record they thought it was cool to be a part of it.”

It was one of the defining weeks of his career, culminating three nights later with the record-breaking 552nd victory. That came at home in Newark against the Chicago Blackhawks. Brodeur’s career with the Devils, which spanned from 1992 to 2014 – which he refers to as “that little bubble in New Jersey where I was for 20 years” – was a series of Stanley Cup championships and personal milestones.

He won his first Cup in 1995 when the Devils swept the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings. The second came in 2000, a six-game triumph over the Dallas Stars. And then there was 2003, when Brodeur’s inner strength, demeanor and a few key teammates helped him claim a third Cup. “I won the (Olympic) gold medal in 2002,” he said. “Between 2000 and 2003, that’s as good as it gets for a goalie.”

Brodeur’s career goals-against average (combined regular season and playoffs) was 2.21. From 1999-2000 through 2002-03, it was 2.09.

The Devils and Brodeur lost in the 2001 Cup final to Roy and the Colorado Avalanche after it seemed to be in the bag. With a chance to clinch on home ice in Game 6, the Devils let it slip away with a 4-0 loss. Then, Roy and the Avs won the Cup with a 3-1 triumph in Game 7 in Denver. “I dropped the ball in Game 6 and Game 7,” Brodeur said. “Losing those two games was one of the hardest things for me to take. That’s one thing I had on my mind when we started the playoffs in ’03.”

The Devils had been eliminated in the first round of the 2002 playoffs. So when they reached the Cup final in 2003, they were determined not to let the chance slip away.

Consequently, the spotlight became brighter when Brodeur let the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim back into the series with a Game 3 flub that may have been the most shocking of his career. Brodeur dropped his stick near the left edge of the crease as Anaheim’s Sandis Ozolinsh shot the puck on net from beyond the blueline. The puck trickled off the goalie’s stick, through his pads and into the net. “People try to embarrass me with that, and I think it’s the funniest thing,” Brodeur said. “Stuff happens. When I was in St. Louis (as goalie coach) and something bad happened to my goalies, I’d say, ‘Take a look at this. You think what happened to you is bad? This is bad.’ ”

At the time, Anaheim coach Mike Babcock said: “Obviously (Brodeur) doesn’t let a whole lot bother him.” Babcock was proven correct when the Devils goalie posted his third shutout of the series (and seventh of the 2003 post-season) in Game 7. “I was going through a divorce, and I didn’t want to mess things up for my teammates because of what was going on in my personal life at the time. I wanted to deliver the Stanley Cup,” Brodeur said. “To be able to play hockey was my own little oasis. It was definitely not easy to do. I was protected by hockey.”

And he leaned on teammates. Before games and on off-days in Anaheim, Brodeur didn’t hide. He often relaxed by hanging out with Devils winger Jim McKenzie, who offered moral support. “At the end, (Ilya) Kovalchuk was one of the guys I hung out with. David Clarkson was another guy,” Brodeur said. “Teammates are so important. You spend so much time with your team. You love everybody, but there is chemistry that happens between some teammates. I had a lot of guys like that throughout the years. As a goalie you’re vulnerable. If the players don’t like you, it’s easy for them not to play well. Not on purpose, but they won’t go through a wall for you. My dad taught me that. He said you could have six guys playing against you or 11. You decide.”

His father, longtime Montreal Canadiens and Expos photographer Denis Brodeur, who was also a goalie, was the biggest influence of all on the future Hall of Famer. Brodeur’s upbringing was the secret behind his ability and willingness to do interviews when others refused. Incredibly, Brodeur gave a major Canadian TV interview barely an hour before Game 7 against Anaheim. “You just get an attitude and, without knowing it, it was probably taking some pressure off myself to be like that,” he said. “My background with my dad really helped me, having had conversations about what you have to go through in hockey and baseball. He told me what he liked about players, and as a kid you just take in information. When I became a pro athlete, it was just the way I knew how to handle myself. It’s not something I did on purpose. It was just me. It’s not like I worked hard at it and I didn’t like it. It was just part of my routine. If somebody said hi, I said hi.”

What was that routine like behind closed doors? You’d never find Brodeur at his stall or in a corner lost in music. “No, I wasn’t part of the generation of headphones,” he laughed. “I had a routine. I was thorough in how I prepared for games. I watched videos and did homework on the team I was going to play. I used to do a lot of visualization. I’d visualize maybe 30 different shots in my own head before the game from the players I was going to play against. So when a shot came it would be like deja vu.”

 FATHER AND SON Brodeur with father, Denis, after winning the 1995 Stanley Cup.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

FATHER AND SON Brodeur with father, Denis, after winning the 1995 Stanley Cup.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Certainly there were some quirks. “I always dressed with everything from the left to the right,” Brodeur said. “Little quirky things that nobody would notice. But I found out in the NHL that if you stuck to your quirky things, the harder and harder it got because you keep adding things. Every time I started going down that path I would erase everything.”

Even on Lou Lamoriello’s Devils, known for strict team rules, Brodeur said he was never prohibited from doing interviews at seemingly inopportune times. “I was never told that,” he said. “Maybe I was given some (pre-game) stuff to do because people were trying to protect me, but I don’t know that for a fact. Maybe some people did their own homework and decided, ‘Marty’s not going to do that.’ We had rules.

“I wouldn’t have cared if I had to talk to somebody in the media between periods. It wouldn’t change my life if I had to say, ‘Yes, that was a tough period,’ or ‘That was a good period.’ But we had rules. They did interviews with players but never goalies. There are a hundred rules for goalies and the media. They think our concentration has to be at the highest level.”

Somehow, Brodeur’s concentration was at the highest level for nearly all of his 1,266 regular-season games and 205 playoff contests. But even a goalie with 691 career victories and 125 shutouts, plus another 113 wins and 24 shutouts in the post-season, could have doubts. His confidence wasn’t always high. “There were times I was searching for my game,” he said. “Everyone always looked up to me to be the man all the time. Sometimes you didn’t feel well or confident. There were stretches when it wasn’t that easy, but I needed to at least show people I was in control.

“Look at (Wayne) Gretzky. People think the big players are always under control. But it’s not like that every single game. Or every single year.”

Could have fooled us all.

Born: May 6, 1972, Montreal, Que.
NHL Career: 1992-2015
Teams: NJ, STL
Stats: 691-397-154, 2.24 GAA, .912 SP, 125 SO
All-Star: 7 (First-3, Second-4)
Trophies: 5 (Vezina-4, Calder-1)
Stanley Cups: 3

MARTIN BRODEUR SHOULD BE NO. 1

Look at the top of the NHL’s all-time leaderboard, and you’ll find Martin Brodeur’s name leading the two most important goaltending categories: wins and shutouts. This is why he is the best ever.

Brodeur’s record of 691 victories may never be broken, since the combination of longevity, excellence and the fact he was in the league collecting wins by age 19 puts him in a realm that today’s netminders can’t make up for. Even the best young goalies in the game, from Andrei Vasilevskiy to Matt Murray, have struggled with heavy workloads early in their career, positing that in today’s lightning-fast era, starting 70-plus games a season isn’t the best idea.

But Brodeur’s claim to the throne should actually rest more on his shutout total than his win total – victories, as literally every hockey player ever will tell you, are a team effort. But a shutout? That’s what makes a goalie special.

Even if Brodeur had the benefit of playing in the Dead Puck Era, on a New Jersey Devils team that suffocated the opposition in the neutral zone and locked everything down if the enemy did happen to establish a presence in the ‘D’ zone, Brodeur was there to make every stop on 125 occasions. This was no small feat, because perfection in a hockey game requires otherworldly concentration and reflexes, both of which Brodeur had in elite quantities. Even if even-strength chances against him were throttled by his teammates, Brodeur still had to be on point for every penalty kill. And let’s not forget: the Devils weren’t always a scoring sensation. In 1996-97, for example, New Jersey finished 16th in NHL offense but first in defense. That gave them the most points in the Eastern Conference, and Brodeur’s numbers were sparkling in the regular season and playoffs. Unfortunately, the Devils managed just five goals in five games against the rival New York Rangers in the second round, and New Jersey went down. The only Devils victory? A Game 1 shutout by Brodeur.

And keep in mind, post-season shutouts aren’t even included in Brodeur’s official tally. He put an incredible seven shutouts in the 2003 playoffs alone. Not only that, but he posted goose eggs throughout his career. Some of his most outstanding work included a run in which he posted double-digit shutout marks four times in the span of 10 seasons. On three other occasions, he just missed the mark by nabbing nine no-nos. His last instance of that number came, remarkably, at the age of 37.

So what we have here is a goaltender who was great when he was young, great in the middle and great when he was old. In his final NHL stint at age 42, Brodeur made seven appearances with the St. Louis Blues – and added one final shutout to the pile. By this time, the writing was on the wall that Brodeur was finally finished, but even then he was able to pull off some magic in a late December game against Colorado.

The easiest way to win a game is to surrender no goals. With Brodeur in net, the Devils always knew they could get a win and do so by scoring just once or twice themselves. Brodeur was dominant, he was consistent and, on many nights, he was simply unbeatable. — Ryan Kennedy

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