In neighborhood street hockey games or on the local pond, players used to put the smallest, slowest and least athletic kid in net. It was sometimes one of the older player's kid brother, a little to young to handle the bigger kids, so put him net where he was out of the way. Playing goal was the hockey equivalent of playing right field in baseball, you were a hidden liability, but still part of the game so you felt included.
It was the area you could put the worst player so he didn't hurt you too much. All he had to do was get hit with the puck or ball. Sure lots of kids complained, but for many of them they just wanted to play so a little pain from flying projectiles and players slashing and hacking around their feet, ankles and shins was the price you had pay.
As goalie equipment improved and the increased notoriety of great NHL goalies like Jacques Plante in Montreal, Glenn Hall in Chicago and Terry Sawchuk in Detroit, slowly but surely young kids were asking to be put in net. Soon goalies were so well protected that injuries, bumps and bruises from hard shots became less frequent and more and the NHL began highlighting the exploits of great goalies like Bernie Parent in Philadelphia and Johnny Bower in Toronto.
Young hockey players were heard on those same local streets and neighborhood ponds saying "I want to play goal and be like Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito." There was even a young hockey player in Quebec that idolized the great Canadiens goalie, Patrick Roy. That young kid would firmly plant himself between the posts and eventually grow up to become the greatest goalie in the history of hockey.
Here are the top 10 reasons Martin Brodeur is the greatest goalie of all time.
10 10. Rookie of the year
Brodeur was selected 20th overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 1990 NHL entry draft. It is difficult to imagine today that 19 teams passed on Brodeur. Being a team's 1st round selection comes with a lot of pressure, but as a goalie there is a grace period as the position is so demanding, most young goaltenders need some seasoning in the minors before seeing an NHL shot.
Brodeur was not most young goalies and he played in his first regular season and playoff game at the tender age of 19. Just two years later at 21, he became New Jersey's starter, a post he would not relinquish for 20 years. Oh and to show the 19 general managers who passed on him in the draft what a mistake they made, he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1994. He also led the Devils to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, before a heartbreaking loss to New York.
9 Shutouts, Shutouts and more Shutouts
We'd all like to be perfect at our jobs, but realistically we can never be perfect. We can all have a lot of good days and even a few great days, but perfect? Not going to happen. During Martin Brodeur's career he was perfect 125 times in the regular season, the most of any goalie ever. He was also perfect 24 more times in the playoffs in 204 games. On those days, Brodeur showed up to work and shut out the opposition. Quite simply, you can't lose if you don't let the other team score. No other goalie in history has been perfect as often as Martin Brodeur.
8 He made the trap work
Jacques Lemaire, the New Jersey Devils coach in the mid 1990's is credited with developing and popularizing the defensive system known as "the trap". It is a passive style that allows your opponent to control the puck in their zone, free from any pressure by forechecking forwards. The system allows them room and possession in areas of the ice that are less dangerous, sucking them in to try and break through your defense. That is when your team will pounce and counter attack quickly before the opposition is able to switch back to defense.
This system would be completely useless if you didn't have a goalie that could make save after save. Teams did fight through the trap and wreak havoc in front of the Devils net and Lemaire's system was a success because every breakdown was backed up by Brodeur. Brodeur made the trap the formidable strategy it was. This is best exemplified through the failures of copycat teams who did not have Brodeur in net to erase their mistakes.
7 The Brodeur Rule
We only see it in international hockey now, but there was a time in the NHL when goalies were free to play the puck anywhere on the ice. There had been goalies who were adequate when handling the puck, but never sought it out. Most of the time goalies covered up loose pucks or just stopped pucks so backpedaling defenseman could easily pick it up. Brodeur made the option of dumping the puck into the end zone and chasing it down moot.
Whenever a team shot the puck into the zone Brodeur calmly stopped the puck, corralled it and then made a smooth, easy pass to a teammate. When killing a penalty Brodeur was even capable of shooting the puck out of the zone past everyone. Oh and he also scored three career goals himself, the most by any goalie. He was so good at handling the puck that the NHL introduced the trapezoid behind the net, an area confined to where goalies were permitted to handle the puck behind the goal line, if they touched the puck below the goal line and outside the trapezoid a penalty was assessed. It was a rule designed to help teams playing against Brodeur and couldn't deal with his incredible puck handling ability.
6 International Success
Brodeur and the Devils were so good for so long that his international participation was limited to tournaments that were played when the NHL was on hiatus. He had to first wait until his boyhood idol Roy passed the torch, but when he did, Brodeur backstopped the Canadian team to some memorable moments. Brodeur was the starter when Canada won gold in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. He saved the day after Curtis Joseph lost the starting job following a 5-2 loss to Sweden.He also won gold as part of Canada's gold medal pursuit in Vancouver. He has two silver medals from world championship competition and was the starter for Canada's World Cup victory in 2004. For over 10 years Brodeur was Canada's no.1 or no.2 goalie in every major international tournament he was free to play in.
5 Played it straight
In the early 2000's with goal scoring going way down, the NHL began looking carefully at the equipment goalies were using. The issue was that many goalies were taking equipment past the protection stage. They were having shoulder pads and goalie pads widened and lengthened to help block pucks. Some goalies even had webbing put in under their arms to stop pucks when they lifted their arms up.
Brodeur played in this era when goalies were pushing the rules and boundaries of fair play, but he was never seen as perpetrator. Brodeur is a big man at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds but he never seemed to using pads that were too big for him. He was big and mobile. He covered a lot of net, but was also agile and was rarely out of position. He played the game properly, ethically and dominated.
Brodeur played a hybrid style, not quite an old school stand up goalie, but never did he look like a the popular butterfly netminder also. He just always seemed to be in the way of pucks. Playing for a defensive minded coach many shots came at Brodeur from the wings, but of course he had to face countless breakaways, two-on-ones and scrambles in front of his net. It is hard to pick one impressionable save that Brodeur made because he often made the game look so easy. The goalie's number one job is to stop the puck and Brodeur stopped the puck 28,508 times, the most of any goalie.
You can't be the greatest goalie of all time without being a winner. Brodeur won the Calder as rookie of the year, then he won the Vezina trophy four times as the game's best goalie. He won the William Jennings trophy as part of a team's goaltending tandem with the lowest goals against average. He was a multiple All-Star and a three time Stanley Cup champion. He won everything a goalie is supposed to win and did it multiple times over a 20 year career.
Part of being great is being counted on and coming through. Brodeur was a workhorse for the New Jersey Devils. He routinely played the most games of any goalie in a year. It got to the point that many hardcore Devils fans didn't know who the team's backup was. For years and years the cushiest job in hockey was backing up Martin Brodeur in New Jersey because every night was a night off. The physical and mental endurance it takes to stand in goal for 60 minutes or more, facing onslaught after onslaught from opposing teams and knowing that your team may only score one or two goals that game would be incredibly taxing. That was the situation for Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, knowing that games and seasons were won or lost on his performance and he was more than up to the task.
We tell kids it's about sportsmanship and fair play and that is very much true, but when you get to the ranks of professional, you only stick around if you get results. In professional sports it's all about, "what have you done for me lately?" Martin Broduer had eight seasons of 40 ore more wins. He had 14 seasons with 30 or more wins. He had 11 consecutive seasons of 35 or more wins and 12 consecutive seasons with 30 or more wins. All of those are records that he holds. Martin Brodeur is the only goalie with more than 600 wins in the NHL. Fans of the New Jersey Devils through the mid 1990's into the teens of the 2000's watched a lot of winning hockey and it was due in large part to having the greatest goalie of all time on their team.