Celebrating My Favorite Professional Athlete of All Time, Martin Brodeur

On Monday; Martin Brodeur, my favorite athlete of all time, will enter the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Although I tend to spend less time thinking about the Football Hall of Fame and Hockey Hall of Fame than I do about the Baseball Hall of Fame, this is the most excited I have been about someone’s induction into any of the three.  If you watch any of the induction coverage, you will hear about Brodeur’s many, many records and his incredible statistics.  You will hear some people say that he is the greatest goalie of all time.  I happen to echo that sentiment, as he was dominant from 1993 to 2007 and very good from 2007 to 2010 (those endpoints and adjectives are, of course, subjective).  Patrick Roy was great, but he did not have a run of dominance nor consistency that lasted as long as Brodeur’s.  That said, my excitement for Brodeur’s induction stems mainly from the great moments of my life that he created.

To a non-sports fan, it is silly to hear that some of a person’s greatest moments in life involved watching athletes the person has never met.  I do not care.  Watching sports has given me many wonderful moments, and I want to touch on those involving Brodeur. 

*In 1993-4, the Devils had their best regular season to that point, and they won their first two playoff series of my fandom before falling to the Rangers in the best series I have ever watched.  The loss to the Rangers and “Matteau!  Matteau!” was devastating, but the joy in watching the Devils reel off 11 playoff wins before that loss was wonderful.  Though Martin Brodeur split time that regular season with Chris Terreri, Brodeur won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year and started all but three of the playoff games.  That playoff run was my “coming of age” as a hockey fan, and Brodeur was a big part of the run.

*On June 24, 1995; I sat with my family in then-Brendan Byrne Arena as the Devils hoisted the Stanley Cup, representing the first championship for a true New Jersey team.  I was also present at the Meadowlands for a thrilling 1-0 overtime win over Boston in Round 1 (Randy McKay with the GWG), the Conference-clinching win against the rival Flyers, and the Devils’ Game 3 win over the Red Wings in the Finals.  Of course, the Devils ultimately swept the Red Wings in four.  Although I had been a casual Devils fan from Kindergarten (1987-8) through fifth grade (1992-3), it always seemed to me that the Cup was reserved for teams from Canada and the Penguins.  When the hated Rangers beat the Devils in 1994 en route to the Cup, I was upset but had hope that the Devils could someday win the Cup.  That “someday” came the very next season, and Martin Brodeur dominated for four rounds.  Thank you, Marty, for those nine glorious weeks of hockey.

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Image via SI.com

*On August 8, 1996; Martin Brodeur came to the grand opening of Garden State Plaza’s Lord & Taylor (only a few years after I had learned that the store chain was not actually owned by Lawrence Taylor).  My mom brought my brother, two friends, and me to the opening and to get Brodeur’s autographs.  My brother ended up with a picture in the newspaper with Brodeur.  We were all a bit jealous of him, but it was a great moment nonetheless!

*On April 17, 1997; I was sitting at then-Continental Airlines Arena (nee Brendan Byrne Arena), as the Devils nursed a 4-2 lead in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against the Canadiens.  My friend Scott said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if Brodeur scored a goal here?”  Sure enough, he did.  We jumped up and down a whole lot; it was pure elation.  I have watched this highlight a million times, and I get chills every time.

*On June 10, 2000; less than two weeks before my high-school graduation, I sat in my living room with my family and some good friends.  We watched Devils/Stars Game 6 extend into double overtime, when Jason Arnott’s goal clinched the Devils their second Cup.  Pure elation yet again.  As was the case in 1995, Brodeur backstopped the Devils the whole way through the playoffs.  The playoffs were a very busy time for me, as I had many exciting moments involving my pending HS graduation; but the Cup run was every bit as exciting as the high-school stuff.

*On June 9, 2003; my family was in Continental Airlines Arena again, as Martin Brodeur pitched a 3-0 shutout in Game 7 vs. the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.  This was Brodeur’s third shutout of the Finals and seventh of the playoffs and gave the Devils their third Stanley Cup.  At this point, I had finished my junior year of college, and Brodeur was one of only five Devils remaining continuously from the team’s first Stanley Cup.  It was the 10th year in a row in which Brodeur dominated and the 10th year in a row in which the Devils looked like a Cup contender for many parts of the season.  I enjoyed the first half of the playoff run at Colgate, as I wrapped up my junior year.  Then, I enjoyed the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals back at home in Midland Park (NJ) with many of my high-school friends.

*On April 29, 2006; Brodeur earned the victory as the Devils finished off a four-game sweep of the Rangers in Round 1 of the playoffs.  While the Devils had already tripled the Rangers’ number of Cups in my lifetime, it was nevertheless a huge thrill to beat the Rangers in a playoff series for the first time.  While athletes sometimes have less passion than fans do, we Devils fans always loved that Brodeur hated the Rangers as much as we did.  That series win was big for all of us.  This win happened nearly two years into my working career (at the parent company of AvisBudget) but provided me with great revenge for the Rangers’ series win from when I was in sixth grade (1994).

*On March 17, 2009; Brodeur earned his 552nd win, to break Patrick Roy’s record.  While there was initially an asterisk here, due to Brodeur’s having opportunities at shootout wins; Brodeur would ultimately surpass Roy’s total by a greater amount than Brodeur’s number of shootout wins.  Thus, the euphoria I felt standing in the last row of The Rock (Prudential Center) was not phony.  I stood there with my brother and three friends as Brodeur cut the netting off the net to keep as a souvenir.  This was the first big moment at The Rock, and The Rock probably never would have even been built if it were not for all of Brodeur’s success at Continental Airlines Arena.  (The Rock opened in 2007.)  At this point, I was two years into my teaching career at Ramsey High School, and it was awesome to reflect on the 552 wins.  I thought of how many “great goalies” had come and gone from the NHL over Brodeur’s 15-17-year career (depending upon whether or not you acknowledge the few games he played at the end of 1991-2), yet Brodeur was the one constant great goalie over that whole time. 

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Image via Toronto Star

*On May 25, 2012; nearly two decades after Brodeur’s rookie season (and more than twenty years after his NHL debut), the legend managed to be involved in what I consider the greatest non-Cup moment in Devils history.  It was Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals – Devils vs. Rangers.  The Devils were up 3 games to 2, as the Devils had won earned their first two series wins in the era of The Rock.  I was in the 100-level of The Rock that night with my former roommate.  Less than two minutes into the overtime, “Henrique, it’s over!!!” happened.  Pure elation on the level of the Jason Arnott Cup-winning goal from 12 years prior.  In fact, this felt every bit like the Devils winning the Cup.  More than 18,000 fans, myself included, had out-of-body experiences of joy as the greatest goal song of all time (“The ‘Hey’ Song”) blared over the Prudential Center speakers. To knock off the Rangers in overtime in the Conference Finals was incredible.  Brodeur again rejoiced to a level befitting of knocking off the hated rivals in the Conference Finals.  He looked as happy as he would have if the Devils had beaten the Rangers in Game 7 in 1994, and the same could be said for me.  While the Devils would ultimately lose to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals, the 2012 playoff run remains a wonderfully positive experience for Devils fans. 

*After 2012, Brodeur would play two additional seasons for the Devils.  In the latter, he split time with current Devils goalie Cory Schneider.  By the end of the 2013-4 season, Brodeur had comfortably set the records for wins, shutouts, games played, and many more.  For me though, it was most amazing to think of the amount of time I had this guy in my life.  He debuted with a few games when I was in 4th grade (1992).  He was a rookie when I was in 6th grade, and he was the Devils’ primary goalie from that year through middle school, high school, college, three years working at AvisBudget, and seven years teaching at Ramsey High School.  Fittingly, his last Devils season was my first school year teaching the legendary editors, Robert Sartori and Nick Costanzo, of this blog.  Thus, over 22 of my first 32 years of life, Brodeur left a mark. 

I should add that his on-ice success is not the limit of the mark he left.  He has also been the best interview of any player for whom I have ever rooted.  He has always been very personable, yet he has always managed to say things of substance.  So many NHL players speak solely in clichés, but this has not been true of Brodeur.  Additionally, as a Devils fan, it was a delight that an all-time great chose time and again to stay in New Jersey.  If the greatest goalie of all time had played in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or any Canadian city, he would have been a mega-celebrity; but Brodeur was content to stay in New Jersey.  In New Jersey, he was celebrated, but he was never revered on the level of Derek Jeter or the other big stars of the NYC area. 

The only negative on his playing career is that somehow, the wonderful “Mar-TAN” chant from Continental Airlines Arena evolved into a “Mar-TEE” chant at The Rock.  You would think that, as he aged, the chant would move to the more dignified name, not to the less dignified name.  Plus, “Mar-TAN” accents the correct syllable, while “Mar-TEE” does not.  This turn of events has never made sense to me, but I do not blame Brodeur for that.  I am hear to applaud the man, the myth, the legend, that is Martin Brodeur.

Congratulations, Martin Brodeur, on your induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and thank you for being involved with so many great moments of my life!

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