If you were a kidgrowing up in the Vancouver area in the early 1980s, chances are Richard Brodeur was your sports hero. There was even a song about ‘King Richard’ that came out during the Canucks’ unlikely run to the Stanley Cup final in 1982. (Seriously, check it out on YouTube.)
Brodeur was born in Longueuil, Que., and grew up in nearby Montreal. “I was just like any other kid in Quebec,” he said. “You’re French-Canadian and you look at the mighty Montreal Canadiens and you aspired to be them. You were Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau on the pond.”
Brodeur came from a big family of five brothers and two sisters who were all into sports. His parents didn’t have to worry about constantly keeping track of where their kids were because they were always playing hockey outside on the frozen pond.
Playing his major junior with the QMJHL’s Cornwall Royals, Brodeur won a Memorial Cup in 1972 and claimed the first Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP for his heroics in a thrilling 2-1 victory in the final over the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.
Brodeur was drafted in the seventh round of 1972 by the New York Islanders but chose to play instead in the WHA with the Quebec Nordiques. The big-money lure of the WHA is what made him sign with the rival league, but playing professional hockey in his home province was also a dream come true for Brodeur. He spent seven seasons with the Nordiques. In 1975-76, he won 44 out of 69 games for his club, and the following year he helped Quebec win the Avco Cup.
After the WHA closed up shop following 1978-79, Quebec, along with Winnipeg, Edmonton and Hartford, joined the NHL. Brodeur never got to play in the NHL with Quebec as he was soon traded to the powerhouse Islanders. Unfortunately for Brodeur, he was third on the depth chart behind Billy Smith and ‘Chico’ Resch, and because of that, he only saw action in two NHL games in 1979-80. The majority of that season was spent with the Indianapolis Checkers of the CHL while the Islanders went on to win their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups.
Brodeur was given his chance in the NHL when the Islanders dealt him to the lowly Canucks. Despite playing seven seasons in the WHA prior to joining the Canucks in 1980, Brodeur was a relative unknown when he landed in Vancouver for training camp.
He was 28 when he came in compete with 23-year-old Glen Hanlon, who was struggling as a third-year NHLer but was beloved in Vancouver. An old story that longtime Canuck Stan Smyl likes to tell is from Brodeur’s first game with Vancouver. Smyl recalls being flabbergasted as to how bad Brodeur looked in pre-game warmup because he couldn’t stop anything. It was the first time Smyl was seeing Brodeur on the ice, and he couldn’t believe his team had acquired him. It turns out Brodeur had a theory of just surviving in practice. He would move as little as possible and didn’t want to try to make a save, unless it was in a game scenario. When the game started, Brodeur looked like a pro and turned away 38 shots in a 5-2 win over Philadelphia.
It wasn’t long before Brodeur had taken the starting job from Hanlon for good and led the franchise to new heights. Brodeur’s career peak came in the 1982 playoffs. That’s where the legend of ‘King Richard’ was born. After sweeping the Calgary Flames in Round 1, Brodeur carried his club to a five-game series win over the Los Angeles Kings to reach the conference final against Chicago Black Hawks.
It was more of the same from Brodeur as they quickly dispatched the Hawks in five games to advance to the franchise’s first Cup final. It was not meant to be, however, as the Canucks ran into an Islanders team in the middle of their dynasty years and were promptly swept in four games. Despite the disappointment of losing in the final, the legend of ‘King Richard’ continues to live on.
Standing barely 5-foot-7, Brodeur had to constantly put up with the critics saying he was too small to make it in hockey. “Every year I had to prove myself,” he said. “Even in 1982 after making the Cup final, you had guys coming in wanting to take your job.”
Brodeur ended up spending eight seasons with the Canucks and later ended his NHL career with the Hartford Whalers, retiring after 1987-88. He finished with a 131-175-62 record in 385 NHL contests. He also accumulated a 165-114-12 record in 305 WHA games.
After leaving the game, Richard returned to Quebec where he was a territory manager for the Labatt Brewing Company for seven years. He moved back to Vancouver in 1997 and worked in the hotel management business for a number of years. Currently, the 66-year-old Brodeur lives in North Vancouver where he’s an accomplished painter of all things. He paints four to eight hours a day and is a full-fledged artist at the Birthplace of B.C. Gallery in Fort Langley. “Painting has always been a passion of mine,” Brodeur said. “When I was playing with the Canucks I was painting at home and brought a sketch pad with me on the road. But it’s not something I mentioned to my teammates. You’re always considered a flake as a goalie anyway, and then if you walk into the dressing room and tell them you’re an artist, they are going to laugh.
“I had two passions in my life. One was playing hockey and the other one my art. And I am a lucky guy because I have been able to do both.”
Born: Sept. 15, 1952, Longueuil, Que.
NHL Career: 1980-88
Teams: NYI, Van, Hfd
Stats: 131-175-62, 3.86 GAA, .872 SP, 6 SO
DID YOU KNOW?
Brodeur was the last active NHL player from the WHA’s inaugural season of 1972-73, and he was the last to have played in all seven seasons of the WHA’s existence (1972-79). Later on, he was named to the 1983 NHL All-Star Game, but he had to miss it due to an ear injury sustained just three days before the mid-season classic. A not-so-fun fact about Brodeur (for him, anyway): no goalie was scored on more often by Wayne Gretzky, who beat ‘King Richard’ 29 times.