Devil Town: An Ode to the Great, Truly Great Martin Brodeur

by Kolby Solinsky

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I was born in 1987, so 1994 is the first year I really, truly remember.

Of course, I have memories before then. I remember picking my grandma up from the airport, not by myself obviously, when I was three. That’s the first memory I think I really ever had. I remember going to a Canucks game at the old Pacific Coliseum when I was four, and making fun of my Dad after because Vancouver had beaten his Winnipeg Jets soundly in that game – happily unaware that I was actually born in Winnipeg and would come to love those Jets maybe only a week later, when that fact was unearthed. I remember things from my first year in school; I remember crying on the steps my first day, when I was dropped off. I remember watching VHS tapes of dinosaurs and National Geographic on loop, pissing my parents off to no end because they wanted to watch something else – but probably giving them some conflicting guilt, because they couldn’t encourage me to eat my vegetables. I already was.

But 1994. That was the first real year. And for a hockey obsessed kid, man what a year it was.

That was the year the Canucks shot to the final, tearing through favourites on their way to a seventh game melt against the New York Rangers. It was my first taste of real loss probably, although that sounds silly to say it now – nobody died, I didn’t lose anything I couldn’t get back. It goes on. But it was an unhappy ending… who forgets their first unhappy ending?

And I was so, so aware of Martin Brodeur. The Devils goalie won the Calder Trophy – given to the league’s best rookie – that year, meaning Brodeur’s first season in the bigs was my first season of consciousness. 12 months later, in the ’95 Cup Final, Brodeur seemed to me to be a veteran… I hadn’t really known the game without him after all, even though he was still a sophomore. And the Devils won the Cup that year, beating the Detroit Red Wings even though they were apparently underdogs. (I didn’t know that.)

The Devils would win two more Cups with Brodeur in the crease between ’96 and ’03. I’ve never been introduced to the laughing stock the Devils were all those years ago in the 80’s – you know, when Gretzky called them the Mickey Mouse club? – and I’ve never known a season without Martin Brodeur in the NHL.

I’ll have to get used to it, I suppose. So will he.

“When I made my decision it was clear in my head… It seems like Marty wanted to play more and he played, I don’t know how many games with the Blues and he played well.

“When you’re not ready I’m sure it’s a tough decision. But when you’re ready when I was, it was a lot easier.”

That was Patrick Roy, just yesterday, talking about the man – the guy he used to jostle with atop those articles about, Who’s the best goaltender in the NHL? – who now enters hockey’s afterlife. Brodeur’s got a lot of life ahead of him at 42, but he’s already a shadow. He’s now in that post-everything period most of us start when we’re 22, where maybe the best times – certainly, at least the most passionate times – are behind him. He’s walking into this weird semi-death, where he’ll have his jersey raised to rafters, his face frozen into a Hall of Fame, and his dominance will be mostly forgotten, at least diluted, in 20 years. By then, another goalie era will have come along – a parallel to my goalie era, with Roy and Brodeur and Belfour and Hasek and, eventually, Luongo.

In Hollywood, you know your career’s over when they start giving you Lifetime Achievement awards, they say. It’s not the same in sports – you have to either walk away on your own confidently, like Roy did, or you wait until the writing’s on the wall, like Brodeur has done.

There’s no right choice between the two. I think that’s what Roy was referring to.

I haven’t known the NHL without Martin Brodeur. To me, he replaced the guys from the era just before him – I’ll have to take others’ word on goalies like Billy Smith or Ron Hextall or Grant Fuhr or… Jesus, the 80’s wasn’t the best decade for goalies, was it? I know nothing about Tony Esposito or Terry Sawchuk or Ken Dryden. And I’m only 27 but, very soon, I’m sure I’ll be talking about Brodeur and Roy and Hasek like those fogeys I know talk about their heroes, about the guys they see whenever they think of the game.

Brodeur is like so many of the other guys who defined their era, their career, or their movement, where there was no Before Brodeur for me. As I mentioned above, I’ve never really watched hockey without Martin Brodeur involved in it somehow. And at the start, that almost soiled how I looked at him, because he wasn’t a great goalie or a newcomer or a hotshot or an MVP or a rookie, even when he was those all things. I had nobody greater than him to compare him to. He has always been an institution for me, the guy who starts out as the most recognizable guy in the room and then, only after you’ve grow up do you realize why that’s true.

Roger Ebert was like that for me, too. Ebert was just the face. The guy at the movies. I had no idea if he was ever actually good – he was just popular. But he was good, course. He was the best.

I don’t have a point here. Other than, Thank you, Marty. Thank you for everything. Because it really meant everything, to a fan like me who’s still seven inside.