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Brodeur's calm demeanor can be contagious

by Dan Rosen
It was Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. The intensity inside Continental Airlines Arena was overflowing into the Meadowlands swamps. The pressure was as heavy as the humid air outside.

Ken Daneyko was in the New Jersey Devils' lineup after sitting out the first six games of the series against Anaheim as a healthy scratch. He was nervous. Daneyko was 41 years old and playing in his 175th Stanley Cup Playoff game, and he was nervous.

The scruffy-faced, toothless defenseman knew of only one thing he could do, one person he could turn to in order to calm down.

In big situations throughout the last 10 years -- tie games, overtime games, playoff games -- Daneyko would skate over to goalie Martin Brodeur and jokingly say, "Well Marty, if it's meant to be, it's up to you and me."

He went back to the well in what would turn out to be arguably the most memorable night of his hockey career.

"It was 0-0 in the first period and I did it during a stoppage," Daneyko told "The point was to calm my nerves. He started laughing and said, 'What a beauty you are.' I was an intense, hyper guy and he was able to calm me down in the biggest game of the year. He would smile and you knew everything would be OK.

"When your most important player is that calm and able to laugh, you're going to feel comfortable and say to yourself, 'What pressure?'"

Brodeur is re-writing the history books and likely will go down as the greatest goalie to ever play in the NHL, but those who know him best, those who have won with him, say his stats only are part of his greatness.

To them, Brodeur is, first and foremost, a wonderful teammate.

"He's the guy that brings the music together," John Vanbiesbrouck, who backed up Brodeur from 2001-02, told "He always has."

They say Brodeur's personality is what sets him apart. On the ice he's a legend and an intense competitor who only accepts winning and a great effort, even in practice, where he's been known to make legendary saves.

Off the ice, he's just one of the boys.

"The one thing about Marty is he's a good person," Corey Schwab, another of Brodeur's former backups, told "He treats everybody the same. It doesn't matter if you are a star player, a rookie or a fourth-liner. He sets the tone with his work ethic and the way he competes, and yet he can have a conversation with anybody on the team. That helps the whole team chemistry, knowing you can talk to the best goalie in the world about whatever you want."

"You hear horror stories about goaltenders, but the thing with Marty is he's probably the most laid back," Scott Gomez, a Devils teammate for seven seasons who now plays for the cross-river rival Rangers, told "He made it easier for a guy like me, a guy that gets ready sort of the same way. It was more relaxed around him."

The Devils recognized Brodeur's unique demeanor right from the start.

Following his NHL debut, a 4-2 win against the Boston Bruins on March 26, 1992, ex-Devils defenseman Bruce Driver said he saw Brodeur playing with confidence not befitting a 19-year-old on an emergency call-up from the American Hockey League.

"I don't think he had time to really worry about the situation he was in," Driver told "Maybe when he looks back on it, maybe he was a little nervous, but he certainly didn't show it. He just went out there and played. And you saw, right from the get-go, that he had a lot of raw talent."

On the exterior, Brodeur is friendly. He rarely looks uneasy or unapproachable, but his intensity and competitiveness always are bubbling. His teammates always have marveled at how he channels it in the right direction.

"It was almost a game to him to see how many saves he could make in practice," Nashville captain Jason Arnott, who won the Cup with the Devils in 2000, told "He didn't give up on anything. It was frustrating to us because it was so hard to score on him."

If you did score on Brodeur in practice, "You let him know," Gomez said.

"You had to fist pump and give a loud cheer just to get him riled up," added Arnott. "It was basically a competition to score on him. Any time we did score on him it rattled his cage. He was a lot of fun to play with."

Brodeur's intensity in practice puts pressure on the goalie opposite him.

"You're competing against the best goalie in the League and he's competing hard," Schwab said. "That forced me to be the best I can be just by trying to beat him in practice."

Arnott said other goalies he's played with, such as Marty Turco in Dallas, have asked him what Brodeur is like on an every-day basis. They're stunned when he tells them of Brodeur's intensity.

It's as if it's hidden underneath his cool-as-can-be exterior.

"I think they think he doesn't practice and just goes out and does his own thing," Arnott said. "They are surprised that he tries on every single shot you take in practice."

Daneyko said he appreciates Brodeur even more now than when he played with him. As a Devils broadcaster, he gets to watch his former teammate from a different angle.

"When your most important player is that calm and able to laugh, you're going to feel comfortable and say to yourself, 'What pressure?'"
-- Ken Daneyko, on former teammate Martin Brodeur

"He's one of those guys that always appreciated veterans," Daneyko said. "For his status and where he was at, he would always do anything for you. Those are little things, but maybe you take them for granted. I don't know if all the guys in his stratosphere do that all the time. He's like that with all his teammates and his former teammates."

Daneyko used the word humble to describe Brodeur, saying it's as if the guy doesn't even realize who he is, what he has accomplished, and what legendary status he holds in the history of professional sports.

"He's on the top level of any sport and he has stayed very humble through it all," Daneyko said. "He's as good a guy off the ice as he is a player on the ice."

The ex-defenseman likened playing with Brodeur to what it must have been like to play with stars like Mickey Mantle or Bob Gibson, legends of their time.

"Now I pinch myself and say, 'I might have played with the greatest ever,'" Daneyko said. "When he's done, he'll sit back, pinch himself and say it humbly to himself, 'Maybe I am the best goalie ever.' Right now he won't, and that's kind of refreshing."

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