Call him 'Money'
If you ever needed to know the comfort level the New Jersey Devils have in Martin Brodeur, it came in Game 3 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals when Brodeur surrendered one of the most bizarre – and yes, comical – goals of his career.
A Sandis Ozolinsh dump-in didn't appear to be of immediate danger, but while skating out to play the puck, Brodeur, the best stickhander of the goaltender fraternity, dropped his stick. From there it got weird. The puck hit the stick and skittered between Brodeur's legs as the goaltender awkwardly reached back to contain it. But the puck slid into the net, leaving Brodeur looking like he lost a game of "Twister." The fluke goal also erased any momentum the Devils had built off a Patrick Elias goal 45 seconds earlier.
So, how did Brodeur's teammate react to this apparent gaffe of epic proportions?
They laughed. Not at him, but with him. After all, Brodeur has made a career of minimizing teammate's mistakes.
"Whenever we are shaken we look back at Marty," says the dead serious John Madden. "Forget the weird goal he gave up in Game 3. Marty may give up some goals, but he never gives up any games.
"We know he's going to be there for us in the clutch," Madden said. "Comfort level? You bet. Think about it this way. How many times have you see a pitcher give up a dinger and stand there on the mound kicking the dirt and swearing at the rest of his teammates for putting him in a position where this long home run happened? Same for a quarterback, standing there so animated after a receiver drops a sure touchdown pass. Marty is the consummate pro. He blames himself, but doesn't show anyone up when he lets in a goal. It's back to action for him."
Brodeur is so far removed from the stereotypical goaltender it's hard to believe he even plays the position. He is seemingly always at ease, usually smiling, and doesn't seem to have developed any of the quirks that have made goalies the fodder of legends. That stuck out to coach Pat Burns who had had limited exposure to Brodeur prior to joining the Devils in 2002-03.
"You don't really know a player until you have to live with him, day in and day out," Burns said of Brodeur. "He loves this game. He loves playing and practicing -- and he hates to give up a goal, even in practice.
But while Broduer certainly qualifies as happy go lucky on the ice, he is well grounded in how vital his role is to team success. Brodeur is well aware that at any one time, in any single instant, he could be called upon to make a save that saves a game, or a series.
"It can be one save, one save that turns a series around," Brodeur said of the quality that defines a "money" player. "But you have to be ready and you have to be focused because you don't know when they need you to do it."
Brodeur credits the way he was developed by the Devils as a hugely important factor in his success.
"Everyone is different in the way they approach the game and every organization is different in the way they use their goalies," Brodeur said. "Some goalies are used when they are really young and if you have a good team, sometimes you can have success. I was fortunate that I was used when I was really young and I played on a good team, so that made my way into the NHL and into being a force quicker than other goalies who have had to wait backstage for a while before getting going.
"It's winning, the experience of winning," Brodeur said. "You've got to start someplace. After that you're going to face situations and it's how you respond. There will be critical games in a series or a season, it doesn't even have to be in the playoffs. Goalies have to start during the season and some of the games you need to win for your hockey club, if you need to beat a certain team or win to lock up a playoff spot, or whatever, or make sure you stay alive in a series, then you let your team take over after that. You don't need to do it all the time, but when the time comes, you need to show up."
"There have been a lot of games, but there were a few saves that I made," Brodeur pondered. "In Game 1 against Dallas the year we won the (2000) Stanley Cup, it was a 1-0 game and Brett Hull had a wide-open net and I made the save to keep it 1-0. From there we took it and won seven-something (7-3). Sometimes the outcome of the game won't tell you where you made that save exactly because it's not a 2-1 game, it's a blowout. But at the time, you made the save.
"It raises your confidence," Brodeur said of the impact of making the "money save". "When you know the goalie is going to make the save for you, you raise your game up. Guys make big saves and the team turns around and scores. It happens how many times? You watch SportsCenter and you see it how many times? It's just the way it goes. Your goalie can make a big difference."
Over the years, no Devil has had a better seat to see Brodeur influence the path the Devils have taken than Scott Stevens, the team captain and top defenseman. A man of few words, Stevens comes up with an apt description of Brodeur's importance.