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Pipe Dreams

Longtime Devils' goaltender Brodeur about to set the NHL record for

March 15, 2009|Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. — Hockey purists can debate what style Martin Brodeur employs.

Is he the last of the stand-up goaltenders, a practitioner of the half butterfly, an athletic hybrid or simply a "fabulous freak" as one former netminder put it?

It doesn't matter on the ice. When someone takes a shot, chances are Brodeur is going to stop it -- whether flopping like Dominik Hasek, in the butterfly of Patrick Roy, using the paddle of his stick like Felix Potvin or just being Marty, possibly the best athlete to play goaltender.

"Marty is like an elite shortstop in baseball," Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "They are fundamentally sound but they make the difficult plays whatever way it takes to be made."

Brodeur has made his share of plays over the past 15 seasons, helping the Devils win three Stanley Cup championships while capturing four Vezina awards as the league's top goaltender.

The 36-year-old Montreal native is on the verge of surpassing every guy who has strapped on the pads and chest protector and donned the mask. With two more wins, Brodeur will break Roy's record for career victories (551), becoming the winningest goaltender in league history.

"It is weird hearing something like that," Brodeur said. "I can't control how people think about me, especially with this. It is something pretty significant for goaltenders and I am not going to deny it. But in our sport, you are judged by performance, how you play tomorrow. This goes outside that bubble a bit, because it is a record. It is a great accomplishment."

Brodeur stopped 26 shots in a 5-2 victory over Phoenix on Thursday night for his 550th victory. He can tie Roy on Saturday when the Devils play the Montreal Canadiens, the team Brodeur grew up rooting for.

Brodeur might be the most durable goaltender to play the game. Except for strike shortened seasons and lockouts, he has appeared in at least 67 games since the 1995-96 season. During that span, he has won at least 34 games a year, including a league-record 48 in 2006-07.

The streak will end this year because Brodeur missed 50 games after tearing a biceps in his left elbow in November. He returned to action late last month.

"I am impressed how he has played so many games per year for such a long time and at such a high level as he does," Roy said in a telephone interview. "It's fantastic. It's amazing. He has such a great approach to the game. He always gets along with the expectations and the pressure. He makes it look so easy every night, and if someone knows how tough it is, it's me."

Not bad for a player the Devils traded down to get in the 1990 draft.

Calgary wanted goaltender Trevor Kidd that year and didn't think it would get him with the 20th pick overall. So they called Lamoriello and worked out a deal for New Jersey's pick, the 11th overall.

The Devils also liked youngsters Brodeur and Mike Dunham in the draft, and felt both would be around later. They eventually got Brodeur with the 20th pick overall and later picked up Dunham as well.

"If we knew what he would turn into, we never would have traded down and taken the chance," a chuckling Lamoriello said.

If you've ever seen Brodeur play, or watched him being interviewed or had a chance to talk to him in person, you realize that Brodeur is special.

There is almost always a smile on his face, win, lose, or just bumping to him out on the street. Stop him and he'll talk about anything, even though he prefers to talk about golf.

"He might be the most humble superstar I have ever been around," Devils defenseman Mike Mottau said.

On the ice, that smile doesn't disappear. It just masks great focus and a fierce competitor.

"He does not want to get scored upon at any point, whether in a game, practice, the drill before practice, the drill after practice," longtime teammate Jay Pandolfo said. "That is what has made him so good. He is that competitive all the time. He never takes a shot off. There are times you think you have him beat, and he'll make a ridiculous save, put his glove behind his back and catch it, throw his stick in the air and knock it down, you name it."

There is a certain irony to Brodeur being a goaltender. When he first started playing as a youngster, he was a forward. He turned to goaltending so he could play for two teams and get twice as much action. The following year he became a full-time goaltender, combining athleticism with natural ability.

"It's not like they took a kid and said this is the way you play goal," said former goaltender Chico Resch, a Devils' television analyst. "It developed naturally for him. It wasn't like he had to make adjustments. I mean he made some adjustments, but those were tweaks to take it to another level."

Resch, who described Brodeur as a "fabulous freak," said his development as a goaltender was akin to the perfect storm.

He has spent almost two decades learning under goaltending mentor Jacques Caron, who developed his skating. Watch him in net and he seems to dance on the ice.

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