Martin Brodeur's boyhood bedroom in a trim house on a trim
street in the Montreal suburb of St. Leonard is a shrine to
goaltenders. On one wall is an action montage of Ron Hextall,
Sean Burke and Patrick Roy, the NHL goalies Brodeur admired
most. Behind the door is a picture of Brodeur, at 16, with
Soviet legend Vladislav Tretiak, both of them wearing hockey
gear and tight smiles at a summer goalie school. Above the bed
are 1995 snaps of Brodeur and various family members with the
Stanley Cup. These icons-by-Nikons are the work of a
professional photographer who happened to share a bathroom with
Martin. Denis Brodeur, Martin's father, takes sports pictures
for a living, which certainly has paid off for the two of them.
But before f-stops came stops of a different sort for Denis. He
was also an accomplished goalie, having received an Olympic
bronze medal as a starter for the Canadian team at the 1956
Games. The assumption has been that the 25-year-old Martin, who
is entering his fifth full season with the New Jersey Devils and
who is considered the best young goalie in the NHL, inherited
the puck-stopping gene from his father. Martin gives a shrug at
the apple-not-falling-far-from-the-tree theory and points out
that he's 6'1" and righthanded while his father is 5'6" and
lefthanded, so the trees hardly look as if they come from the
same orchard. The truth is that neither can remember skating
with the other more than a few times; Martin had to learn the
position without many tips from Dad. But Denis's role in aiding
Martin to reach the NHL is as undeniable as it is indirect. His
profession helped light the way, although at times it was Martin
who was lighting Denis's way.
Martin occasionally worked as his father's assistant, trundling
the 25 minutes from St. Leonard to the old Forum, helping with
the strobes and the backgrounds, doing the heavy lifting that
goes into taking photos more polished than vacation snapshots.
When Martin was a promising 15-year-old goalie but a middling
lighting technician, he chatted with Roy while his father did a
promotional shoot involving Roy for a hamburger chain. Roy asked
Martin how he was doing, but Martin couldn't ask his idol how he
was doing. In Montreal, everybody knew how Roy was doing. Still,
being around the hallowed Forum was wonderful exposure for
Martin. He saw the game and its people through the zoom lens of
personal experience, his father's camera having been the pass
into a neighborhood in which he later would feel remarkably
comfortable as a player from the start.
"My dad would talk to players like Claude Lemieux and Stephane
Richer and tell them one day his son was going to play in the
NHL," Martin says of the two former Devils teammates. "How many
dads say the same thing? But, gee, he was right."
Now Brodeur, whose 1.88 goals-against average last season was
the lowest in the NHL since 1971-72, is playing with history. Of
post-'67 expansion goalies only the Chicago Blackhawks' Tony
Esposito, who had 32 shutouts in his first 181 games, and the
Montreal Canadiens' Ken Dryden, who lost just 25 of his first
178 matches, have numbers as stunning for the start of a career.
Even Roy, who won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in his first
complete year, 1985-86, had 13 fewer victories over his first
four full years than Brodeur, who won a Stanley Cup in his
second full season. Among goalies who have played at least 200
games since the center red line was introduced in 1943-44,
Brodeur's 2.25 career goals-against average trails only Dryden's
2.24. Among goalies with at least 40 playoff games, Brodeur's
1.83 is third behind Davey Kerr, the Stanley Cup goalie for the
'40 New York Rangers, and Clint Benedict, who played the bulk of
his career before talkies. While the Buffalo Sabres' 31-year-old
Dominik Hasek is the NHL's best goalie--his spiffy .927 save
percentage since 1993-94 tops Brodeur's .915, which ranks third
in the NHL during that period--Carolina Hurricanes general
manager Jim Rutherford says Brodeur's age makes him the goalie
every franchise would want to build a team around.
"Brodeur's numbers are terrific, but I'm not impressed by them,"
New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury says. "Here's a
guy who plays for a team that puts a choke hold on the
opposition's attack, so I'm not surprised [by the low
goals-against average]. What I'm impressed by, and what makes
him a great goaltender, is that he stops the puck when it needs
to be stopped. He's cool. The pressure doesn't bother him. Night
after night he seems to be involved in 1-0, 2-1 games, and the
pressure never seems to be a factor."
This is the New Jersey Factor, which tends to obscure rather
than illuminate Brodeur's talents. The Devils, whose discipline
and constipating neutral-zone trap allowed nearly eight fewer
shots per game on Brodeur than Hasek faced last season with
Buffalo, can give a goalie a comfort zone, as long as he doesn't
start babbling to himself out of boredom. This is the Devils'
bargain, a cup many goalies would view as half empty. Of course,
Brodeur doesn't see it that way. Not only is his cup half
full--"I'd never be a jerk with my teammates because I know I
need them to be successful," he says--but it also contains hot
chocolate with miniature marshmallows.
There's a dark side to Roy, a wiseacre whose blowup with former
Montreal coach Mario Tremblay got Roy traded to the Colorado
Avalanche in 1995. There's a dark side to Hasek, the only Sabre
who couldn't get along with former coach Ted Nolan. But Brodeur
has what his father might call natural light. He is 350 days a
year of sunshine. For a goalie, says Dallas Stars defenseman
Shawn Chambers, Brodeur's road roommate with New Jersey last
season, "Marty is one of the most normal guys I've ever been
around." This is a compliment.
"His biggest asset is that he keeps two feet on the earth," says
New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire, referring to Brodeur as a
stand-up guy more than a stand-up netminder (although since
working with goaltending instructor Jacques Caron the last three
years, Brodeur has pretty much become that too). "Good
upbringing. Good values. He knows how to deal with the people
The only person who seems to baffle Brodeur is Lemaire, whose
personality is even colder than his knowledge of the game. He
was party to three incidents last season that irked Brodeur.
Midway through the third period in a game against the Islanders
on Nov. 9, Brodeur took a stinging shot off his shoulder. When
he skated to the bench during a break, Lemaire inserted backup
goalie Mike Dunham, whom the Devils needed to play at least 25
games in 1996-97 to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free
agent after the season. Brodeur returned to the net after only
41 seconds had been played and New Jersey won 4-0, but under NHL
rules the breather denied Brodeur an official shutout. He would
finish the season with 10, the most since Dryden in 1976-77.
Says one Devils official, "The problem is I don't think they
[the coaches] were aware of the rule."
Two other decisions by Lemaire resonated more deeply. On Nov.
30, in New Jersey's only visit to Colorado, Lemaire used Dunham
in a 2-1 loss to Roy and the defending Stanley Cup champions.
For Brodeur, who played a record 4,433 minutes in 1995-96,
missing a rare matchup against Roy was like a kid being taken to
the beach and being told that he couldn't go in the water.
Lemaire also chose not to start Brodeur on Feb. 1 in Montreal, a
decision Brodeur didn't learn of until a few hours before the
game. He wasn't amused. Presumably neither were the more than 20
friends and relatives for whom he had bought tickets.
The metropolitan New York media surmised that Lemaire was trying
to mess with Brodeur's mind. Lemaire can be enigmatic, but he
definitely is not certifiable. He didn't plan to toy with his
best player just for kicks. While sorting through the prosaic
reasons for turning to Dunham on those two occasions--Brodeur
had played indifferently on the road trip before the Avalanche
game; he had told Caron he hadn't slept much the night before
the Montreal match--Lemaire says he sensed something deeper.
"Martin had been talking to Patrick and was excited about
playing against Patrick," Lemaire says. "Well, the game is not
Patrick versus Martin. It's the Avalanche versus the Devils, and
it should stay that way."
By denying Brodeur a mask-to-mask showdown with Roy and later a
showcase game in his hometown, Lemaire was offering subtle
reminders that big-time pros must put aside childhood dreams.
"Yeah, not playing against Patrick and how I found out I wasn't
playing against the Canadiens upset me at the time," Brodeur
says. But no one scribbled a mustache on Lemaire's picture in
Brodeur's boyhood bedroom (Brodeur and Lemaire posed on the day
of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft in 1989, when
Lemaire, then the head of the Verdun Junior Canadiens, picked
Brodeur in the third round), and a few days after the Montreal
game, goalie and coach met on the ice during practice to clear
the air. Brodeur insists the relationship has never been better.
"Hockey isn't only a job for Martin," Lemaire says. "It's his
toy." The inner child still can be found outdoors sometimes,
playing forward in street hockey games in St. Liboire during the
off-season. While fatherhood has kept him off the streets more
than usual this summer--he and wife, Melanie, have a
two-year-old, Anthony, and 11-month-old twins, William and
Jeremy--he grabbed some guys from his old neighborhood for a
game against players from his new town, St. Hyacinthe. If Willie
Mays could go three sewers in stickball, why couldn't Brodeur
boom slap shots off the pavement? Even now hardly a day goes by
without a neighbor's child ringing the doorbell to ask, "Can
Martin come out and play?"
Yes, he can play. Four full seasons in the NHL are proof. He
plays angles, moves economically, handles his stick superbly and
absorbs shots as much as he stops them, so he rarely leaves bad
rebounds. But Brodeur probably is better known for two saves he
didn't make. Stephane Matteau of the Rangers stuffed a
wraparound past him in the second overtime of Game 7 in the 1994
Eastern Conference finals to end the most compelling playoff
series of this decade. Last spring another Ranger, Adam Graves,
knocked out the powerless Devils in the second round of the
playoffs with an overtime wraparound after Brodeur missed a poke
check. "Marty was angry after the Graves goal, but he didn't
come into the room and start breaking sticks or anything,"
Chambers says. "He was disappointed because we weren't going to
In February, Brodeur will become an Olympian, as his father was,
unless he is injured or Team Canada general manager Bob Clarke
and his fellow selectors have a massive brain cramp. In
September 1996, Brodeur was content to back up the Edmonton
Oilers' Curtis Joseph in the World Cup and would gladly go to
the Nagano Games even if he were No. 2--especially if Roy were
the starter. Brodeur and Roy briefly were teammates on the
players'- association-sponsored Team Quebec during the 1994 NHL
lockout. "There was a breakaway contest, and we were down two
goals," Brodeur recalls. "Patrick says, 'You guys go ahead and
score. I'll stop everything else.' Gee, I wouldn't say anything
like that. Not even in practice."
Brodeur wouldn't say it because he has no guile, which is the
part of Denis's handiwork that you can't frame. Martin was
brought up to understand that just because you do something
special doesn't necessarily mean you are special. This makes for
the most flattering portrait of all.
MARTIN BRODEUR ranks second in goals-against average among
netminders who have played at least 200 games since 1943-44, the
season the NHL introduced the red line. Here are the 10
goaltenders who have given up the fewest goals per game over
PLAYER, YEARS GOALS-AGAINST AVG.
KEN DRYDEN, 1971-79 2.24
MARTIN BRODEUR, 1992- 2.25
BILL DURNAN, 1943-50 2.36
GERRY MCNEIL, 1947-57 2.36
JACQUES PLANTE, 1952-73 2.38
DOMINIK HASEK, 1990- 2.40
GLENN HALL, 1952-71 2.51
JOHNNY BOWER, 1953-70 2.52
TERRY SAWCHUK, 1949-70 2.52
BERNIE PARENT, 1965-79 2.55