By luck of the schedule, Martin Brodeur is poised to make history against the Montreal Canadiens for the second straight season.
Should he get the start Wednesday when the Devils host Montreal, it would be the 1,029th appearance of his career, tying him with former Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy for the most all-time. Reaching a milestone against his hometown team should be familiar territory for Brodeur, who tied Roy’s wins record of 551 at Montreal last March 14.
“It’s an amount of games that I will have played, and it’s an impressive number,” Brodeur said after Tuesday’s practice. “You can look at it both ways. It shows how long you’ve played and how durable you are at the same time. The minutes (record) is similar. At the end of the day, games played is almost starts because through the years I didn’t relieve too much (13 times). So it’s all my starts almost. It is what it is. It’s a number. You have to tack it on to performances a bit because if you don’t play well you don’t play that much, but it’s still just games played.”
Brodeur has checked off a list of significant milestones in 2009. He set a new mark with his 552nd win last March, and opened this season by joining Roy as the only netminders with 1,000 games played. He eclipsed Roy for most minutes played (60,235) in Boston on Nov. 27, then notched his 103rd shutout at Buffalo on Dec. 7 to tie Terry Sawchuk’s record.
Ultimately, Brodeur’s name will be at or near the top of every major goaltending record. But with a League-leading 20 wins, the 37-year-old is focused on playing the game and resists overanalyzing his place within its history.
“These stats are overwhelming for me,” he said. “I can look at it now because I’m still playing, I don’t feel retired or that I’m going to retire any time soon. I think I’ll really appreciate it more (then). You really stop being judged when you stop playing hockey. Now, every day, every goal, every shot, every decision I make is scrutinized. They don’t scrutinize Terry Sawchuk for his 103 shutouts anymore or Patrick Roy’s accomplishments. I’m still playing, so for me to match myself with numbers makes no sense because tomorrow, I’ll either be the best or I could be the worst.”
Matching Roy’s games played might be less climactic than 552 because it becomes official once the puck drops to start the first period. That doesn’t make 1,029 games any less impressive.
“Only one other goalie did it, so it can’t be that easy,” Brodeur said.
Brodeur admitted he had never considered the significance of 1,000 games until a talk with Roy, his boyhood hero, who retired in 2003.
“I had a conversation with him way before he played his 1,000 games, and that’s one of the things he told me,” Brodeur said. “He took a lot of pride in telling me that never had a goalie played 1,000. I (had) never looked at the amount of games a goalie played before. Per year, yes, but not total, until he told me that. He said, ‘This year I should get to my 1,000th game.’ For him, it was something. Then I turned around and was like, 'Wow, I’m going to be tying him' and it’s going to be pretty cool."
Head coach Jacques Lemaire said a goaltender must possess two qualities to play as much as Brodeur has: “He has to be good, one. Otherwise, you’d send him to the minors. And secondly, I think he’s got to love the game. You have to love the game if you’re going to last that long.”
Brodeur feels lucky to have both.
“It says a lot when you do play a lot,” Brodeur said. “Taking it game-by-game, I feel like I’m judged every game. I don’t think I’m better than anybody, I just (try to) prove it every day I go on the ice. When I’m done I’ll be able to sit back, you’ll make one call on me and I’ll have to live with it the rest of my life because you don’t get judged when you don’t play anymore. But it’s all about having fun and doing what you like. I’m fortunate enough to have the talent for it. It’s the work ethic – there’s a lot of things that come into play. You can’t just live on talent.”
Being from Montreal means having friends that are Canadiens fans, something Brodeur joked about working to change. But team allegiances don’t stop Brodeur’s buddies from supporting his record quests. He’s 35-15-5 in his career against the Habs with eight shutouts.
“For me it’s a great challenge,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun just because of my friends and everybody that I know supporting the Canadiens. Whether they’re fans of mine or know me, it’s always, I’m going to get phone calls. It’s a pride factor when you play against your hometown team, anybody will tell you. When Pando (Massachusetts native Jay Pandolfo) goes and plays against Boston or old teams you played for. It’s going to be a fun game, but achieving things, for me it’s the game.”