NEWARK, N.J. — Transporting Martin Brodeur from a television studio at the Prudential Center to a third-floor conference room takes four New Jersey Devils officials, two husky security guards and the occasional push from a reporter. Throngs of fans, realizing that the winningest goaltender of all-time is walking the concourses on a sunny Saturday afternoon, forced their way to get a piece of him.
Safely in the elevator, Brodeur had a moment to relax and reflect. On Tuesday, Brodeur, now the assistant general manager for the St. Louis Blues, had his No. 30 retired in the Prudential Center rafters, the final tribute after 691 wins, 125 shutouts and three Stanley Cups victories.
“It gives you the opportunity to draw back on your past and relive what happened,” Brodeur told SI.com.
The Montreal native has done everything a goalie can do in hockey, winning nearly every trophy available, often multiple times.
The one thing he didn’t do was finish his career in Jersey. The 43-year-old Brodeur joined the Blues last season and played seven games there, winning three. Soon after he officially retired, he joined the front office, where he assists GM Doug Armstrong in scouting. The future Hall-of-Famer admits that while it’s too soon for him to be a general manager, it is something on his radar (although he did tell his bosses he won’t be filing any scouting reports this weekend).
Yet for four days in February, it’s like Brodeur never left. When he dropped the ceremonial puck before Saturday’s game against the Capitals, the 16,514 fans in attendance roared like he was king.
And when Brodeur, finally in that third-floor conference room, called Caitlin Jackson of Bloomfield, N.J., to inform her that she won a ticket to his retirement ceremony, all she could say was, “Oh my God!” over and over.
And when he came out for his ceremony on Tuesday, after 50 minutes of introductions and video, it was so loud that when he started to speak, his words were drowned out by 21 years of love, adoration and gratitude. All he could do was step back and give a thumbs-up and a wave.
“I had a blast,” Brodeur said as he stood in front of a giant carved out “30” structure with a replica of his Sher-Wood stick draped in front, the podium he spoke from surrounded by life-size pucks with some of his records taped around the side.
Brodeur is royalty in the Garden State, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him meander through the Prudential Center concourses. He’s relaxed in his post-playing days, although he was never stressed during them. This is a goalie that used to drink Sprite in between periods. This is a goalie that said he’d rather play with his “spirit” than his technique, eschewing the now-standard butterfly style for his unique way of flopping, flapping, stacking his pads together, doing anything to stop a shot. This is a goalie that played the puck so well that the league created a trapezoid to prevent him (and others) from moving it up ice. This is a goalie that watched his players during shootouts because he liked to see what they would do, not like some who “are so nervous they bury their heads down.”
He’s certainly calm now, relishing his dual, contradictory role as King of New Jersey and worker bee in St. Louis. He took a look at Devils left winger Mike Cammalleri’s injured right hand and laughed, saying “that’s hockey,” and motioned up and down to show off his injury-free frame. He took delight as he greeted Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, sporting an unfamiliar red uniform, with his brother-in-law. Brodeur is like a childhood best friend who moved away and is back visiting.
Brodeur’s ceremony brought the best of the good ol’ days, links to a past that seem further and further away now. There was Jacques Lemaire and Lou Lamoriello, Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer and Larry Robinson, the players clad in their Devils white, each receiving deafening cheers from the crowd. This night was about Brodeur, yes, the “MAR-TY, MAR-TY” chants ringing throughout the area early and often, but it was about ’90s too, that time in Devils history when playoffs were a given, Hall-of-Famers were made and Cups won. Those times are gone. Tuesday was the reunion.
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The winningest goaltender of all-time ended his ceremony speaking to his family in his native French, thanking his teammates and fans and watching from the goal crease as his banner was slowly raised to the rafters, joining Daneyko, Niedermayer and Stevens in that hallowed air.
“I value and I cherish the relationship I had with you guys and I’ll remember it forever,” Brodeur said. “Thank you for all the ‘Marty’s Better’ chants.”
Brodeur exchanged red for blue, but his heart remains in Jersey. On Saturday, before the hoopla really started, Brodeur took one last chance to put it in perspective.
“There’s so many people who were part of my career throughout the years,” Brodeur said. “Most of them will be here. I’ve made countless friends. I’ve seen fans when they were three years old and now they are 23. We won together. It’s going to be an emotional night.”