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A look at Martin Brodeur's beginnings

Friday, 03.13.2009 / 9:26 PM / Brodeur Watch

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

ST. LEONARD, Que. -- As you pass through each room, another story of hockey history unfolds through images captured by one of the sport's greatest visual artists.

From Jean Beliveau to Henri Richard to Dickie Moore to Serge Savard, Guy Lafleur and Patrick Roy, there is French-Canadian royalty hanging in nearly every room of Denis and Mireille Brodeur's lovely home on Rue Mauriac in Ville de St. Leonard.

One player, though, is omnipresent. He's the one the photographer cares about most.

From the top floor, where you'll find his tiny old bedroom that has since been turned into a sitting room, down into the finished basement, which has a back room that serves as Denis Brodeur Sr.'s darkroom, the walls tell the story of Martin Brodeur's rise to fame.

The New Jersey Devils' 36-year-old goalie will be going for hockey history Saturday night inside the Bell Centre, roughly a 20-minute drive from St. Leonard, as he attempts to tie Patrick Roy's record of 551 NHL victories.

On Friday afternoon, Denis Brodeur Sr. was kind enough to welcome NHL.com into his home for the second stop on our "Martin Brodeur Roots" tour. Along with Denis Brodeur Jr., Martin's 38-year-old brother and our tour guide, we saw three specific locations that are part of the fabric of what makes Martin Brodeur perhaps the greatest of all time.

La Pizzeria Etc.

Denis Jr., who operates the Web site dedicated to his brother, (www.martinbrodeur30.com), met me and Devils radio broadcaster Matt Loughlin around 2 p.m. at the door of La Pizzeria Etc., a restaurant located at 7303 Boulevard Henri-Bourassa Est. in the Rivieres des Prairies section of Montreal. Martin Brodeur and Sheldon Souray co-own the place.

We talked about Martin and his quest for history over a large lunch of pizza, salad and poutine. We were later joined by Andrea Dell'Orefice, one of the Brodeur brothers' closest and oldest friends.

Nicknamed "Big Boy," Dell'Orefice is the chef of La Pizzeria Etc. and its neighboring restaurant, the upscale Prima Luna.

Denis Jr. proudly says he was the only one of Brodeur's immediate family to be in East Rutherford, N.J. for Martin's first-ever NHL game as a mustached 19-year-old kid straight out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Save for mom Mireille, who never goes to her son's games, every member of Martin's family will be at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. Denis Sr. will be bringing Denis Jr.'s camera equipment so he can shoot from the glass.

"After (Thursday) night's win, I was like, 'Wow, my brother is going to make it,'" Denis Jr. said with a stunned look on his face. "It's like when he won in Ottawa in Game 7 in 2003, when (Jeff) Friesen scored to send the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final. It was like, 'We're going again.' It's that same feeling. It's overwhelming."

While we were enjoying our lunch, Denis Sr. was home on the phone, doing interviews. Martin Brodeur has been all the rage here, in Montreal and everybody wants to talk to dad, including CBC, RDS, the Globe and Mail, New York Times, the Bergen Record and Sports Illustrated.

"He's everywhere today," Denis Jr. said of his dad. "He loves this. He's in his zone. He's like a rubber ball today."

Meanwhile, before meeting us at the restaurant, Denis Jr. was home updating the Web site. He said it's gotten more than 1 million hits, including page views from 139 countries. The message boards are filled with fans wishing Martin good luck.

"I knew Marty was big, but now since this Web site, it's huge," Denis Jr. said.

 
 
The house

Once lunch was over, we hopped in Dell'Orefice SUV -- Denis Jr. was driving -- and made the five-minute drive to the famous house on that now famous street. As we pulled up, Denis Jr. showed us where they used to play their famous street hockey games.

He said they would put one goal on each side of the street, but a long enough distance away so they were angled. If it was bigger than a 4-on-4 game, they would extend the playing surface by putting each goal in the middle of the street a good distance apart.

On occasion, the cops showed up and shooed the boys inside or to a local park. Ironically, in both 1995 and 2000, when Brodeur brought the Stanley Cup home to St. Leonard, the cops shut down Rue Mauriac for the Brodeur ball hockey tournament.

The winner got to lift the Cup and parade it down the street.

"We had a big party too, so they put up 'No Parking' signs. There were no cars and all the cops were there watching us," Denis Jr. said. "I said to the officers, 'You used to kick us out and now you let us play.' That's pretty cool."

As we walked up to the front door, Denis Sr. was waiting for us on the opposite side of the glass door. He walked us up the stairs, took our coats, introduced us to his wife and quickly showed us the living room.

"This is where we watch all of Martin's games," Denis Sr. said, pointing at the big-screen TV.

Denis, a former Canadian Olympic goalie 53 years ago, is now 78 but sprier than some people 20 years younger. He was thrilled to give us the walking tour of his home, which is nothing short of a shrine to the sport.

Our first stop was Martin's old bedroom. There aren't many trophies on the mantle because, as Denis Sr. explains, Martin didn't win anything until he won the Stanley Cup in 1995. He can't exactly take that home as a keepsake for his mantle.

But there are pictures everywhere. One of Denis' favorites is a shot he took of Martin and Wayne Gretzky after Team Canada won gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Gretzky is on the left, holding Brodeur's gold medal even though the goalie still has it around his neck.

Denis has a pair of identical images of himself as a goalie in 1958-59 for the Charlotte Clippers of the Eastern Hockey League and Martin in a Devils white uniform during the late 1990s. Denis is not wearing a mask in his photo -- and amazingly, Martin isn't either.

"His mask had just fallen off and they got that shot," Denis said.

Between the two matching photos is a shot of Denis holding a 4-year-old Martin, who is dressed as a forward.

Along the adjacent wall to the Gretzky photo and the maskless Brodeurs are eight photos of Martin's milestones. Denis has left open room for two more 10x12-inch photos to add to the collection.

"This one for when he breaks Patrick's record," Denis said, pointing at the wall. "And, this one for when he break's (Terry) Sawchuk's (shutout) record."

The hockey history tour continues downstairs, where Denis allowed us to hold his 1956 Team Canada Olympic jersey as well as try on his old goalie mask, a replica of the Jacques Plante original. It is mended at the forehead, proving how much Denis got pelted in the head by shots.

"I knew Jacques Plante," Denis said, "And it's funny because I think Martin's style most resembles Jacques Plante's."

As you walk through the hall toward Denis' work room, more photos catch your eye. But inside the work room he proudly showed us his shelf that includes 18 albums filled with negatives of his son playing hockey.

Denis sold his collection of more than 110,000 photos to the NHL in 2006, but he kept everything he had on Martin. A while back someone also tried to buy his Olympic sweater so they could sell it at auction, but Denis refused the $10,000 offer.

"I'm going to give it to Martin so he can hang it side by side with his when he retires," Denis Sr. said.

Arena Martin-Brodeur

Blocks away from the house is the old barn wear Martin Brodeur learned to skate. The arena used to be named after the city of St. Leonard, but now it's named after St. Leonard's famous son.

We drove there with Denis Jr. as Denis Sr. followed us in his own car.

"It's weird for me when I turn here and see the sign for Arena Martin-Brodeur," Denis Jr. said while pulling into the parking lot. "That used to be Arena St.-Leonard. Now I hear kids saying, 'Where are you going?' 'I'm going to Arena Martin-Brodeur.' It's just weird."

The Brodeurs are royalty at this location -- and Martin, of course, is the king.

There is a nearly life-size photo of him in action over the entranceway inside the foyer. The pro shop is flooded with more pictures and memorabilia and is stocked with Denis Jr.'s MB30 brand, including tee-shirts, hats and toques.

The arena has only one ice sheet and it is well-kept. When we were there, a pee-wee team was practicing and Denis Sr. peered down at the ice through the glass from the lobby.

"I remember him with a chair in front, pushing the chair and falling down," Denis Sr. said, reminiscing about Martin's early days at this rink.

From the moment he laced up the skates until he left home at 15 to pursue his hockey career, Martin Brodeur called this rink home. He still proudly calls St. Leonard, population roughly 100,000, home. He loves it -- and clearly it loves him back.

"If I would have known what he was going to do," Denis Sr. said, "I would have taken more (photos)."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com

   
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