On Saturday, February 6, at 1 p.m., New Jersey Devils fans at Prudential Center stood up and began roaring and cheering as loud as it appeared they could. A former player was walking down a red carpet towards center ice to drop a ceremonial puck, as many have done before, but this was no ordinary player. As he approached the end of the path the fans got louder and louder, nearly jumping in their seats. Legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur was about to start his Jersey Retirement weekend to the delight of 18,000 fans in the Newark arena and hundreds of thousands more watching on television.
“It was awesome, especially sitting behind him for all these years in section 101 in the old arena and in section 13 here,” Tim Gianni said. Gianni, whose family has held season tickets for 28 years, said seeing the goaltenders, Cory Schneider and Braden Holtby , take the ceremonial faceoff “was the only way it should have been.” The Maplewood native added that his greatest memories of Brodeur were watching him lift the Stanley Cup on home ice in 1995 and 2003.
|Martin Brodeur prepares to drop the puck on Febraury 6, kicking off his jersey retirement weekend. Goaltenders Cory Schneider and Braden Holtby took the draw, taking the role traditionally assumed by a team's captain. Photo by Patrick Dodson |
Even Washington fans made the trip along the Northeast Corridor to see Saturday’s opening event. Ben Karten, a 37-year-old from Baltimore called him one of the greatest goalies of all time. “I’ve seen him beat us many times, so I know how good he is,” Karten said of Brodeur. “You’ve got two of the top goaltenders in the league right now, and they’re there with the best there ever was, it made it very cool.” Karten said that Saturday’s game being part of the retirement celebration was the key reason he made the trip.
The faceoff alone would be a special moment, but on that February afternoon, it was just prologue.
Two days later, fans flooded the lower bowl and floor at Prudential Center, viewing some of Brodeur’s Devils and Olympic sweaters, and taking photos of the five most significant trophies Brodeur collected over his career; the Calder Memorial Trophy, the William Jennings Trophy, the Vezina Trophy, the Prince of Wales Trophy and the big one, the king of them all, the Stanley Cup, which he hoisted three times. As the Devils skated in pre-game warmups at Madison Square Garden before taking on the Rangers, WNBC sports anchor Bruce Beck introduced Brodeur to the 4,000 fans in attendance at The Rock and after a brief interview, helped unveil “The Salute,” a statue of Brodeur that will stand in Championship Plazaoutside of the arena, further honoring his career with one of his iconic actions.
Donna Grant, treasurer of the New Jersey Devils Fan Club, said that after seeing a photo of the statue in the newspaper that morning, seeing it in person, “it just blew my mind.” Grant said the best part of the night was seeing Brodeur in person.
Fred Hemmrich, a 27-year-old car salesman from Sparta, said Brodeur looks happy in the statue. Having the statue outside Prudential Center, Hemmrich said, would help him explain Brodeur’s significance to his son. “I grew up loving sports and my dad would explain all these athletes that I never watched, and now I get to do that with my son.” Hemmrich explained that his son has his own heroes, such as Cory Schneider, but the statue will help him pass along his memories like his father did first.
|Filling the seats and floor, fans pack into Prudential Center for the unveiling of "The Salute" a statue of Martin Brodeur that will greet fans outside. After revealing the statue, the Devils hosted a viewing party, allowing fans to watch the team's road game on the big screen. Photo by Joe Marte |
Still, fans were only experiencing the opening act.
Then Tuesday came, February 9, a day that had been on fans’ calendars since the Devils’ schedule was released over the summer as the first chance to see Oilers’ rookie sensation Connor McDavid. That happened, but from October 6 onward, it became The Night. That was the day the Devils would retire Brodeur’s number, joining former captains Scott Stevens, Scott Nidermayer and alternate captain Ken Daneyko in a special fraternity. Without a doubt, that would be what mattered on the 9th.
After words from emcee Mike “Doc” Emrick, Devils owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, former team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and more, Brodeur took the podium, gave his own speech, and alongside his family, stood between the pipes he defended for the vast majority of his career, and watched his banner get raised to the roof. Last, but certainly not least, he raised his stick one more time, saluting the fans and taking a pose right next to his statue.
“It was great, and it brought back a lot of childhood memories,” said Dave Browne, a physical education teacher from Bellville. “Bringing back a lot of the old band members, from Lou to both Scotties, Stevens and Neidermayer, Daneyko, old coaches,” stood out the most to Browne, who attended every event he could over the weekend, and said the excitement was particularly great.
Newtown, CT., native Peter Lubinsky, a risk manager for IBM, made the trip down to Newark after attending each of the previous jersey retirement ceremonies. Lubinsky said the setup and having all of the trophies present made the night stand out among its peers. “This was definitely bigger than all of the rest.”
A fitting tribute for the best there ever was.