Is Martin Brodeur the greatest goaltender in history? Is he better than Patrick Roy? Maybe, because of his incredible longevity, he’s the greatest hockey player this side of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemiuex?
I’ll let the paper of record explore this further. A New York Times excerpt:
By CHARLES McGRATH
The best hockey player in the New York area right now is also one of the greatest hockey players ever, and he’s a Methuselah, a 40-year-old in a sport where pro careers typically last five or six years. Martin Brodeur, now in his 20th season with the New Jersey Devils, has played so well for so long that even hockey people have tended to take him a little for granted. He’s hardly an unknown, but he would be more fussed over and wondered at if he didn’t play in Newark and if his position were not the lowly, unglamorous one of goalie.
“Playing goal is not fun,” Ken Dryden, the Hall of Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, wrote in a memoir. “It is a grim, humorless position, largely uncreative, requiring little physical movement, giving little physical pleasure in return.” While his teammates zip around, the goalie lumbers, weighed down by his cumbrous equipment, and he spends the whole game by himself, down at one end of the rink, within easy earshot of heckling fans, in front of a red light that flashes on whenever he fails and lets a goal slip by. He has flurries of activity, but a lot of the time he just watches and worries. There’s very little he can do to win a game, and mostly he hopes only not to lose it.
In hockey mythology, it’s an article of faith that all goalies are a little flaky. You have to be a bit nuts, the theory goes, to want to play the position in the first place — to stand in front of the net while people sling hard rubber discs at you at more than 100 miles an hour — and only certain personality types can withstand the strain. The annals of the game are full of memorable head cases. Glen Hall, a goalie during the ’50s and ’60s for the Red Wings and the Blackhawks, used to throw up before every game. Gary Smith, a goalie from the same era, insisted on removing all his gear and taking a shower between periods.
The loopiest goalie of all was Gilles Gratton, who bounced around in the minors in the ’70s before ending his career with the St. Louis Blues and the New York Rangers. Gratton liked to skate in the nude sometimes, wearing just his goalie mask, and refused to play if the stars did not line up properly. He believed that in a previous life he was an executioner who stoned people to death, and that he was fated to become a goalie — someone on the receiving end of a stoning, so to speak — as punishment.
Brodeur, who has been the Devils’ starting goalie since 1993, the backbone of the team’s three successful Stanley Cup campaigns, is the exception to this tradition of brooding and eccentricity. He’s probably the most well adjusted, happiest-seeming person I have ever met, so normal that it’s a little eerie. Jokey and gregarious, he doesn’t even mind talking to the media, though like a lot of hockey players he speaks to the press in breathless run-on sentences, like someone dashing across thin ice, fearful that if he stops, he’ll fall through.
Chico Resch, the former Devils goalie who is now a broadcaster for the team, cautioned me last summer about taking Martin Brodeur at face value. “There’s more to Marty than meets the eye,” he said — meaning his competitiveness, I think. And Martin Brodeur admitted that he’s not always as unruffled as he seems. “You come in from a bad period and start breaking the sticks — I’m not going to say it never happened,” he told me, smiling. “I know there is a lot of pressure on a goalie, a lot of responsibilities, but if you add on to yourself more than you need to, it makes it harder to deal with the adversity.” Hockey people say that Martin Brodeur’s particular strength is his ability to bounce back from a bad goal or a bad game and not let it gnaw at him. Hockey was locked out for the first half of this season, and during the Devils’ truncated training camp last month, you could see that he hates to be scored on even in practice, rapping his stick or ducking his head in disgust after letting one in. But the cloud passes in an instant, and then he’s bouncing on his skates and looking for more pucks to swat away. Lou Lamoriello, the Devils’ general manager, says, “Marty’s mental toughness, his ability to overcome a bad game, is just phenomenal.”
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A Fulbright scholar, published author and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks