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Olympic gold medal put Brodeur 'on a pedestal'

by Dan Rosen / New Jersey Devils

Before he helped his country end a 50-year Olympic gold-medal drought at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Martin Brodeur went to Canada's executive director, Wayne Gretzky, with one request.

"I had a few conversations with Wayne and I said, 'I want to play for you guys, but please, just give me a minute, even a second, in the net so I can say I played in the Olympics,'" Brodeur said. "That was the only thing I asked. It was like, 'If we're winning 5-0, put me in so I can say I played.'"

Brodeur didn't get a chance to play in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. He was told during the flight to Japan that Patrick Roy was going to start every game, so it's easy to understand why he felt the need to tug on Gretzky to make sure he could at least play in one game.

Gretzky, though, laughed when that conversation was brought up in a phone interview Friday because he said the intention all along was to have Brodeur and Curtis Joseph split the first two games, and Canada would go from there.

"I think he was in some ways kidding a little bit when he approached me, but at that point in time, Pat [Quinn] was our coach and Curtis was having a stellar season," Gretzky said. "It was a tough decision who was going to start. We knew they were both going to get a chance to play. It was probably one of the toughest decisions we had to make as a group, who was going to start in Game 1."

Despite the fact that Brodeur was the only goalie on the roster to win the Stanley Cup twice, Joseph, never a Cup champion, got the nod in the first game because of how well he was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were coached by Quinn.

But everything changed after Canada lost 5-2 to Sweden in the tournament opener, a game in which the skaters in front of Joseph were far worse than the goalie himself.

"We figured what we would do is that if Curtis won Game 1 and Marty played Game 2, Curtis would go in Game 3," Gretzky said. "But if we didn't win Game 1, Marty would play Game 2, and if we won, we would just keep rolling. That's what happened. That's how it unfolded."

Brodeur helped Canada to a 3-2 win against Germany and a 3-3 tie against the Czech Republic. It was just enough to get Canada into the medal round, when Brodeur allowed four goals in three knockout games on the road to the gold medal.

Canada edged Finland 2-1 and rolled past Belarus 7-1 before defeating the United States 5-2 in the gold-medal game.

"Once Marty got the net, I knew his history and I knew him well enough that it was going to be tough for somebody to get the net from him," Gretzky said. "His reputation preceded him. As an organization, a management team and coaches, we knew what we had in him. I had just recently retired, so I played a lot against him and I knew firsthand how good he was. And he had the credentials to back everything, so we were definitely solid in net from every direction."

Chris Pronger, a defenseman for Canada at the Salt Lake City Olympics, said the goalie switch was a must at the time, and the fact they were getting Brodeur was settling to the rest of the team because of his experience.

"Marty was in the prime of his career and had already won the Stanley Cup twice, so it wasn't like he hadn't been in pressure situations," Pronger said. "I remember I was on the ice, it's 2-1 for us against the U.S., and [Brett Hull] gets a one-timer on the power play and I'm like, 'Oh crap, it's in.' [Brodeur] somehow gets across and gets his foot on the post to stop it. It was like, 'Holy!' The final score was 5-2, but it was 2-1 at that point, and I think that sealed the door on them. We immediately turned around to make it 3-1."

Pronger said Brodeur's ability to play the puck was the biggest difference-maker for Canada.

"It just adds another element to your team and allows you the ability to stand up more because you don't have to worry about going to get the puck, he's already getting it," Pronger said. "I'm sure the [New] Jersey defensemen over the years would tell you that he was like a third defensemen back there. He was playing the puck, stopping it, setting it up. [Joseph] was actually good with the puck too, but he was nowhere near as good as Marty. It just gave us another dynamic."

A funny thing also happened to Brodeur upon returning to the Devils after the Olympics.

His popularity grew.

"I never won a Vezina Trophy until I won the Olympic gold medal," said Brodeur, who won the Vezina four times in five seasons from 2002-08. "I think people recognized what I was able to do when I stepped outside of the bubble of the New Jersey Devils."

Much of that came from the feeling people had for how the Devils won, Pronger said.

"You heard it was the most boring hockey to watch and yada, yada," Pronger said, "but mind you, he's out in the corners stickhandling and making passes for breakaways."

The fact that he was doing all those things for Canada cemented Brodeur's legacy. He already was a two-time Stanley Cup champion before he did it, but now he was Canada's goalie too.

"That's why, for me, Team Canada means a lot to me," Brodeur said. "I think they put me on a pedestal and people started to notice that I was able to win and play these big games. I am always going to have a special place for Hockey Canada in my heart just for that reason. These are the things that happen in someone's career that define who you are, and that was a moment for me."

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