The Devils' Advocate
Call it the "Golden Age of Goaltending."
Never before has there been the quantity and quality of goaltenders than those currently plying their trades in NHL rinks.
Click off the names of great goalies and the list drags on and on. Ed Belfour is a revitalized winner in Toronto. Patrick Roy is Mr. Everything in Colorado. Curtis Joseph looks to lead the Red Wings to another title. Marty Turco and Jocelyn Thibault are carving reputations for themselves in Dallas and Chicago, just as Jose Theodore did last season in Montreal, and Patrick Lalime has been a rock of stability for the Ottawa Senators.
But in any discussion of great goalies in today's NHL, never, never leave out the name of New Jersey's Martin Brodeur. This season, Brodeur has emerged in the early discussion as a viable candidate for the Hart Trophy as the League's most valuable player. He certainly will be among the top contenders for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender.
But all this kind of talk is irrelevant to Brodeur, who is genuinely more concerned with winning team awards.
"It would be nice to have one, but I'll trade that to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup every year, and that's the way I see it," Brodeur said when asked if he had an overwhelming desire to win a Vezina Trophy. "I've played some great seasons, I've got some great stats. I just ran into a guy named Dominik Hasek, who was pretty hard to beat. He was dominant for all those years.
"For me, it's not that big of a deal. I would like to, because everybody talks about it, but like I said, I would rather have a chance to win the Stanley Cup and play on a good, solid team than just playing well, and not making the playoffs and not doing anything." Devils' fans are treated to some of the best goaltending in the NHL on a nightly basis. That was especially true when Hasek was still active. He and Brodeur staged some memorable battles, like the night of Dec. 23, 1996 in New Jersey when Brodeur and Hasek, then with the Sabres put on a goaltending clinic. For 65 minutes, Devils and Sabres battled one another, searching for that one opening, that one sliver of net that would result in victory. Both teams were left fit to be tied after the overtime period ended as no skater was able to crack the two brick walls that guarded the nets at both ends of the rink. The Devils and Sabres each tried 37 shots at the opposing goaltender and were turned away 37 times, with the result a rare scoreless tie.
Both Brodeur and Hasek earned the admiration of friend and foe alike for their efforts. Each goalie turned aside scores of quality chances, thrilling the fans with a display of excellence that was last seen on April 27, 1994 in the sixth game of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then, Brodeur and Hasek engaged in another memorable confrontation that lasted through 60 minutes of regulation time and an additional 65:43 of overtime before the Sabres' Dave Hannan scored the only goal in the 1-0 encounter.
"I had one with the same guy, but I lost it you know. It went eight periods or something," Brodeur said of that playoff marathon in which he lost a battle, but won the war as the Devils triumphed in the series.
"Winning the Stanley Cup (in 1995 and 2000) was probably the best ever. But if you count that out, because I think it's so easy for any guy that's won the Stanley Cup to say that, mine was a loss. We played Buffalo and we had four periods of overtime. And that game will always stick with me. I thought I played great and Dominik was unbelievable.
"I don't think I'll ever play that long of a game ever. It was unbelievable. I was looking up in the crowd and kids were sleeping! I was on the ice at ten to seven for warm-ups and I think it was two o'clock in the morning when I left the ice. That was kind of my most memorable game and it was a loss! This will always stay with me."
Brodeur knows he faces a charged-up goalie every time he steps onto the ice. That's the nature of competition in the League these days. Since his rookie season of 1993-94, no other NHL goalie has recorded more victories than the 350 Brodeur had achieved as of Jan. 22, 2003. Not Hasek. Not Roy. Not Joseph, Belfour, Chris Osgood or Mike Richter. No one.
"Like any game, you can go out the next time and get beat," Brodeur shrugged, clearly not impressed with his status. "You have to start all over again."
Despite this "business as usual" approach, Brodeur admits to watching the work of his counterpart at the other end of the ice, and feeding off it.