Legendary New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur, who will turn 40 in May, is renowned for his hybrid goaltending style, consistent play and overarching success.
In the two decades since he played his first game in the NHL on March 26th 1992 Brodeur has become the league’s all-time winningest goaltender, a four-time Vezina Trophy winner, three-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
And unlike some of his goaltending brethren Brodeur — known for his cool and calm demeanour — has even seemed to enjoy himself.
Looking back he says his parents’ low-key approach and unwavering support was crucial.
“I was pretty fortunate my dad never really forced me into doing anything. He never asked me to go to hockey school in the summer or do anything.”
Brodeur’s father, Denis, was a former Olympic goaltender and team photographer for the Montreal Canadiens. Despite the family’s hockey pedigree Brodeur says he was never pushed or pressured.
“Maybe because we grew up in that environment — for him it was not about me making it, it was about me having fun. Making sure I do everything I can to make it but really enjoying myself.”
As a 17-year old Brodeur says he was starting to find his way; doing what he loved.
Playing junior for Saint-Hyacinthe Laser only 40 minutes from Montreal he was billeted with a teammate. With friends and a girlfriend he says he wasn’t lonely. “It was kind of fun to be on your own for the first time.”
And the young goalie’s first set of wheels added to his sense of independence. Underscoring his close relationship with his father it was his dad who shopped for the vehicle though Brodeur says he paid the $4,000 price tag.
“He brought it where I was playing junior so after one of the games he just said, ‘Here’ and threw me the keys and said ‘That’s your new car.’”
Brodeur says the five-year old used, orangey-rust-coloured four-door Toyota Tercel was great except for one slight detail.
“The only problem was it was a stick shift and I didn’t know how to drive it. My brother had to teach me a little bit that night so it was kind of funny.”
Brodeur says the car was big enough for his hockey gear and was used to drive back and forth to visit his family in Montreal where he was the youngest of five.
Now with a five kids of his own, there’s a bit of déjà vu.
“My oldest is 16 and he’s been gone for three years now at school and I have my twins who have just turned 15 in October and this is their first year away from home; so I see them go and I see myself a little bit in them. You know, they come back and they’re like little men now.”
The proud dad notes they’ve developed a degree of independence and are responsible, on time and able to take care of themselves.
Reflecting on his youthful hockey ambitions Brodeur comes across as appreciative crediting a well organized and well-staffed system. He says he had a goalie coach with him “almost from the first day I put the pads on.”
But he has his father to thank for meeting and working with — as Brodeur describes him “probably the best goalie that had never played in the NHL — a really nice guy” the much-loved Vladislav Tretiak – goalie for the Russians during the fabled ’72 Summit Series.
Brodeur attended Tretiak’s hockey school for a year and then taught alongside him for a couple of years. “You learn a lot when you’re around him all the time,” he adds.
But it was an earlier coach who inspired Brodeur to be open to all styles of goaltending, picking what he liked about each — a strategy that’s clearly paid off.
“For me it was always putting a doubt in the shooter’s mind. Not knowing how I’m going to play. So one day I’m going to be a stand-up goalie, the next day I’m going to be poke-checking everybody.”
As unpredictable as he is on the ice, when it comes to the road he says he plays it safe.
“Driving-wise, I don’t drive fast.” Though he appreciates a car that’s responsive he says: “Knock-on-wood, I haven’t gotten to really anything yet that could test my reflexes.”
Despite some nice rides — he just got rid of his 911 Turbo, and before that had a Bentley Coupe he’s not received any excessive speeding tickets.
“I’m kind of boring on that part, that’s for sure. Good boring.”
For hockey players whose lives involve constant travel, 20 years of hitting the road can wear thin. Brodeur says at this point he doesn’t like to travel much at all and says if he’s in a car for more than two hours “I’m going crazy.”
Which is probably why a road trip to Florida — he had bought a home there — was a really bad idea.
“We got ourselves a car (an Audi Q7) and I had to bring it to Florida and my brother was like, ‘this is going to be fun — it’ll be a road trip.’ Oh my God. It was like 18 hours later and I was like, ‘what am I doing?’ I should have shipped it there.”
Nowadays, Brodeur, having switched from the Porsche Cayenne Turbo to the BMW X5 M, is more comfortable with the added space a sports utility offers. For hockey trips with the wife, kids and friends he’s got an Escalade which offers even more room.
And if that all sounds a little boring, Brodeur also has a Harley Davidson Fat Boy (in Florida) for hitting the road with the guys.
The netminder, who recently sold his chopper, (he liked the ‘cool look’) was introduced to motorcycles by coach Pat Burns (who passed away from cancer in 2010) during a lockout year.
With Brodeur’s eldest son, Anthony, following in his father’s footsteps he’s getting lots of advice . . . and not just on goaltending.
“I’m the baby of my brothers and sisters so it’s not like I had to give rides to my family.”
He says he’s told his eldest son to be careful what you wish for. “When you’re going to get a car you’re going to be driving everybody.”
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