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Brodeur and New Jersey are a perfect match

by Shawn P. Roarke

"Jamie came over and said, 'Go take a lap. The fans deserve it. That was really a personal thing (taking that lap). I had a lot of friends and family in the stands while I was skating there, and it was definitely a great moment."
-- Martin Brodeur

NEWARK, N.J. -- "New Jersey and You: Perfect Together.” For the longest time, that was the state's tourism pitch. It's safe to say that NHL record-holder Martin Brodeur has taken the slogan to heart.
The Montreal boy came to the Garden State for the first time as a fresh-faced teenager in 1990 as a first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils. Nineteen years later he remains and now is as New Jersey as Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and diners. Heck, he can probably even tell you what exit on the New Jersey Turnpike he takes to get home.
Brodeur cemented his place in New Jersey lore Tuesday night here at the Prudential Center, clawing his way to a 3-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks that gave him the record for the most regular-season wins by a goalie in NHL history.
This one was No. 552, putting him one ahead of former record-holder Patrick Roy. All 552 wins have come in a New Jersey sweater -- something that is almost unheard of these days.
"He's been here since Day 1 and he's made a commitment to the organization and the organization made a commitment to him," Devils coach Brent Sutter said Tuesday morning. "He's had success through it all and the organization has had success through it all. So it's been a pretty happy marriage along the way.
"So there is no reason for Marty to have to think he needed to play somewhere else. He has been very happy here and obviously the organization has been very happy to have him. It's been a tremendous amount of respect between both."
That respect came to life Tuesday night in what is arguably the biggest game in the two-year history of the Prudential Center. The gleaming new barn was packed to capacity; 17,625 fans waiting for their hometown hero to make history.
Brodeur did not disappoint. Despite a late scare -- giving up a bad goal to Dustin Byfuglien with 2:03 left in regulation to cut a comfortable 3-1 victory parade into a one-goal nail-biter -- Brodeur delivered as he has so often through his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career.
The crowd serenaded Brodeur with a standing ovation and throaty sing-song chants of "Marty, Marty, Marty," "Marty's Better," and “Thank You, Marty." They roared with approval as Brodeur took a victory lap after the final buzzer -- reminiscent of his championship laps with the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
All eyes were on Brodeur as he struggled to cut the net away from its posts when Jamie Langenbrunner approached, urging Marty to share the moment with the fans -- Brodeur's fans. The rest of the Devils would finish the dirty work of securing the keepsake twine.
"Jamie came over and said, 'Go take a lap. The fans deserve it," Brodeur said. "That was really a personal thing (taking that lap). I had a lot of friends and family in the stands while I was skating there, and it was definitely a great moment."

It was of the greatest moments Brodeur has fashioned in a Devils' sweater, a fact that still confounds some who wonder why the Montreal boy has never gone home to play before the adoring Canadiens fans who showered him with love when he tied the record with a win Saturday night in Montreal. If not, Montreal, then surely Brodeur should be interested in another hockey hotbed where his vast skills would not go underreported or seemingly underappreciated.
But Brodeur has never understood that line of thought.
He fell in love with the Devils -- and, by extension, New Jersey -- soon after he settled in as the face of the franchise. Yes, he goes home to Montreal in the summer, but he calls New Jersey home the rest of the year.
His kids play youth hockey here, he is an active part of his local community -- and he says he would never have it any other way. Brodeur says he has never even entertained the notion of leaving the only professional hockey home he has ever known.
"For me, it was never a secret about that," Brodeur said Monday in a calm moment of reflection before Tuesday's emotional storm. "I loved being in New Jersey; I loved being a part of this. The success of the organization became my success at the same time.
"I think when you have something good, the grass is not greener necessarily on the other side all the time and I felt my grass was green enough to play here."
Yes, in the end -- on a memorable St. Patrick's Day in downtown Newark -- the catchy state tourism slogan proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy -- New Jersey and Martin Brodeur: Perfect Together.

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