The Greatest Game: A Fan’s-Eye View of Martin Brodeur

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As a Devils fan who lived in New Jersey throughout much of Martin Brodeur’s career I was lucky enough to see him play in person dozens of times. We Devils fans knew he was a special player before the rest of the hockey world figured it out – so much so that we would seek out seats closer to the goal he defended twice rather than the one our team shot on twice in any given game.

Still, I didn’t fully understand the extent of Brodeur’s value to the team I loved until after I watched him lose the greatest game I ever attended in person.

The Game

9 June, 2000 – Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals between the New Jersey Devils (home) and the Dallas Stars (visitor). In a potentially Cup-clinching game, Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour battled for five – yes, FIVE – scoreless periods before Mike Modano finally put one past Brodeur off a feed from Brett Hull at 6:21 of the third overtime.

My View From the Stands

This game probably took a couple years off my life, and was totally worth it even though my team lost. The Devils entered the game up 3-1 in the series, so we fans at the arena knew we were under the same roof as the Stanley Cup. When the puck dropped to start the game, we were ecstatic. When the puck dropped to start the first overtime, we were exhilirated and terrified. When the puck dropped to start the third overtime, we were collectively trembling, exhausted and thrilled and frightened and borderline delirious.

It was one of those times – times which we achieve almost exclusively in the context of sporting events – when a large group of strangers enters into absolute emotional sync, made that much more remarkable because of the complexity of the emotion we were experiencing together.

A family of three – mother, father and a son who looked to be about 10 years old – were sitting a few rows in front of me. After the second overtime the mother decided it was time to go home, a perfectly understandable choice given that her son had school the next day. I’m not confessing to anything, but it’s *possible* that I joined in with the people who booed her on her way out.

Hey, it was the finals, and it wouldn’t have killed that kid to miss one day of school. Just sayin’.

As it turned out, that family only got about a half hour’s head start on the rest of us. When Modano scored, the building went so quiet that even from the upper level I could hear the Stars players whooping and cheering on the ice. We fans were shell-shocked and deflated and so drained that it’s a wonder we didn’t all fall asleep at the wheel.

My greatest consolation in the immediate aftermath of the loss came from knowing that leaving early (if just before 1 a.m. can be considered “early”) didn’t cost that 10-year-old the experience of watching his team skate the Cup. It wasn’t until a couple days later, after the Devils beat the Stars in Dallas in the decisive Game 6, that I was able to view Game 5 for what it was: a masterpiece.

Brodeur’s View From the Ice

Despite the score, this was no defensive stare-down. Both goalies had to make plenty of high-quality saves throughout the near-double-header. Brodeur stopped 12 shots in the second overtime alone, and they weren’t all gimmes. Meanwhile, as he was delivering what might have been the single most impressive performance of his career, Brodeur saw his teammates miss opportunity after opportunity against the legend at the other end of the ice (Belfour was 8 years older and had won two Vezina Trophies to Brodeur’s zero at the time).

Instead of ripping into his teammates for providing zero goal support while he turned in one of the finest performances of his career, Brodeur was reportedly upbeat after the marathon match. He opened his post-game presser, which took place just before 2 a.m., with a smile and a “good morning.” I read later that then-rookie Scott Gomez told reporters that a relaxed Brodeur had told his teammates “We’ll get them tomorrow,” a statement that turned out to be true when, less than 48 hours later, Brodeur came out on the winning side of another multi-overtime goaltending duel.

What I Learned

We all knew by then that jovial, laid-back Brodeur was about as far as one could get from the stereotypical off-kilter, twitchy goaltender, but until those two games I didn’t realize just how unflappable he really was. Brodeur had an almost superhuman ability to shrug off a bad goal, bad game or bad result – whether or not he was at fault – and come back stronger the next time out. He didn’t place blame or wallow, but rather took a beat, learned whatever lesson the experience could provide and moved on.

This quality, combined with his status as the greatest puck-handling goalie of all time (come at me, Hextall fans!), made Brodeur uniquely valuable to his team. Brodeur was the total package, and we Devils fans know just how lucky we were to have him wear our colors for upwards of 20 years.

Brodeur’s counterpart put on a hell of a show on 9 (and into 10) June, 2000; but by the time 11 June was over the world had learned, not for the first time and not for the last, that Marty was better.

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Afterword

by Cutler Klein

Growing up in New York, I couldn’t get away from Martin Brodeur’s name. He was always on the local sports reports, making some crazy save. Before I was even born, he had already won a Stanley Cup. By the time I started Kindergarten, he had won two more. Of course, I live in a sea of Rangers blue, so most of the talk about Marty around here was trash talk.

I never took to the Rangers (I adopted the blue and gold of the Predators), but I always noticed a tremendous amount of respect for Brodeur amongst Rangers fans. When they’d chant “MAAAAR-TY!” after a goal, it was almost paying homage to the future Hall-of-Famer.

As I grew from occasionally watching hockey and following the playoffs to becoming a diehard, crazy fan, the one person that was there throughout was Martin Brodeur. He was the face of consistency when he played. You could always count on Brodeur to be there. No matter how teams changed, Brodeur would be in net for the Devils.

Brodeur-Save-6I remember one save in particular, during the 2012 Eastern Conference Final, which is perhaps the best I have ever seen. Marian Gaborik got in behind the defense, and appeared to beat Brodeur. But, at the last moment, Brodeur stuck his right leg in the air as he was lying face-down, and he somehow kept the puck out. It was the most incredible thing I had ever seen.

So, thank you, Marty. Beyond the three Stanley Cups you brought to the tri-state area, you brought excitement, consistency, and some ridiculous saves. I’m sure, if they could, all Rangers fans would tip their cap in respect.

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