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Jersey Retirement

Brodeur now adored in Montreal

Canadiens fans have warm feeling for former nemesis

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist/Historian

MONTREAL - There have been many wonderful Martin Brodeur stories out of this city through the years - not so many, admittedly, if you're a Montreal Canadiens fan - but this is my favorite by a rink-length:

It was March 14, 2009 at Bell Centre, and Brodeur's New Jersey Devils were clinging to a 3-1 lead with less than a dozen minutes left. With a victory, Brodeur would equal the NHL-record 551 regular-season wins of his boyhood idol, Canadiens legend Patrick Roy, who was in the arena that night just in case.

During a TV timeout, shuffling in his goal crease, Brodeur turned to find a visitor standing beside him.

"Marty," veteran referee Don Koharski told Brodeur, "I need a picture with you."

His 32-season officiating career less than a month from its end, refereeing his final game in Canada, in his favorite city to work, Koharski had no intention of leaving Montreal without a souvenir.

"Uh, what?" came Brodeur's reply. Focused on his job, the goalie was puzzled. To say the least.

"I told Marty, 'Look over there where your father is, with Fish (Bob Fisher, then the Canadiens team photographer). I asked Fish to take a photo of us,'" Koharski would later recall to me, laughing.

Denis Brodeur, the goaltender's father and longtime hockey photographer, was sitting against the glass at the faceoff circle next to Fisher. Together, they were shooting Brodeur's historic game, which the Devils would win 3-1.

"I said to Marty, 'I've got eight games left, so you hang on and make history and I'll have this photo for my wall of shame of my final trip into Montreal,'" Koharski said. "Marty looks over, sees his dad and Fish and he puts this (expletive) grin on his face. It's an awesome photo."

Fisher would shoot another wonderful image that night - Brodeur father and son beaming outside the Devils dressing room, Denis with his camera around his neck, Martin in a team track suit holding a Canadiens-crested puck with "551" written on adhesive tape across its face.

Today, Canadiens fans adore Martin Brodeur, a native of Montreal.

Not that it always has been that way. 

Arguably the greatest goaltender in NHL history, Brodeur has morphed in Montreal from a villain as a player to a hero in retirement, having been a railroad spike-sized thorn in the side of the Canadiens throughout his glittering career.

As the Devils prepare to celebrate Brodeur on Tuesday, retiring his jersey in a ceremony at Prudential Center, Canadiens fans are feeling a cozy warmth about the legendary goaltender, no longer the arctic-icy feeling they had toward him not so long ago.

Brodeur was Public Enemy No. 1 in Montreal purely for statistical reasons.

Consider his record against the Canadiens:

When he finally unbuckled his pads for good, Brodeur had played 70 regular-season games against Montreal, winning 45, losing 19 and tying one, with nine shutouts, a goals-against average of 1.83 and a save percentage of .930.

He was frighteningly good on Montreal ice, going 20-9-1 at Bell Centre with five shutouts, a 1.64 GAA and .940 save percentage.

There was Brodeur's offense too: the first of his three career goals came against the Canadiens in New Jersey on April 17, 1997, the puck shot from behind his own net, on one knee, to center ice on the fly and down into the vacated Montreal net.

Probably the only time the Canadiens had Brodeur's number was at the old Montreal Forum, where the goalie went 2-4 - though on his first NHL trip to the famous barn on Dec. 8, 1993, then 21, he turned in a 31-save first-star performance to outduel Roy in a 4-2 Devils victory.

The late Denis Brodeur and I became friends at the rink and away from it, chatting about his photography and his own goaltending career.

Before he ever sold a photo, and he sold thousands, Denis was one of Canada's top senior amateur goalies, a bronze medalist on the country's 1956 Olympic Winter Games team as a member of the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen.

Twice during the mid-1950s, Denis was awarded the Nat Turofsky Trophy for the League's best goals-against average. A nice story there, for Nat and Lou Turofsky were two of Canada's best photojournalists of the day. The brothers were pioneers in sports photography, taking many of the era's most memorable hockey shots, often running out onto the ice to get their iconic close-ups of brawling players.

As Denis' goaltending career wound down - he even played a season in Victoriaville, Quebec, with the legendary Canadiens-bound Jean Béliveau - he began snapping publicity photos and peddling them to Montreal newspapers. That led to a freelance gig, beginning in 1961, shooting Canadiens games at the Forum for the French-language Montreal-Matin daily.

Denis Brodeur would shoot Montreal Expos baseball, the Olympic Games, golf, pro wrestling and much more, but it was hockey he loved most.

In the mid-1980s, by then the Canadiens' team photographer, Denis had a young assistant in his schoolboy son, Martin, who scurried about helping with lights and equipment for the chance to mingle, starry-eyed, with the team.

When Denis was photographing the Canadiens' 1986 Stanley Cup parade through the streets of Montreal, 14-year-old Martin was riding his bike to a downtown intersection to cheer Patrick Roy rolling by.

A half-dozen years later, Denis would be shooting Martin in an NHL net, eventually taking thousands of images, many he would compile in a coffee-table book. The album charts a path from street hockey outside the family home in Montreal district Saint-Léonard to the 1993 Calder Memorial Trophy, four Vezina and five Jennings trophies, nine All-Star Games and three Stanley Cups.

When Martin began picking off one NHL goaltending record after another, Denis was almost always there to photograph the moment. For Martin, it was always about catching the legend; it wasn't about passing him.

Always, this father had a few words for his attentive son about the icons he was approaching.

None would be more significant than the late Terry Sawchuk, whose NHL-record 103 shutouts forever had seemed untouchable.

Sawchuk had his own glorious history against the Canadiens. He shut them out 17 times during a 21-season, 971-game career, and it was at the Forum on Jan. 18, 1964, that he blanked Montreal 2-0 for his 95th shutout, passing former Canadien George Hainsworth to become No. 1 all-time.

Denis Brodeur told me, it was about 2004, when he "knew" Sawchuk's shutout standard was going to fall to his son - so certain of it that he bought a large, framed Detroit Red Wings photo of Sawchuk he had discovered by accident in a Montreal store.

He tucked it away and waited until Martin earned his 104th shutout, coming Dec. 21, 2009 in Pittsburgh, then opened the frame and placed a photo of his son beside the vintage shot of Sawchuk, offering it to Martin as a gift.

"That's the pride of my family," Martin told me, clearly moved, when he learned what his father was doing. 

Two-and-a-half years later, less than four months after having undergone a 10-hour operation for the removal of a tumor on his brain, Denis Brodeur made a trip to New Jersey to watch his son tend the Devils goal in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.

In his luggage were two remarkable souvenirs he had kept from his playing days: the 1956 maple leaf-emblazoned wool sweater he wore during the Olympics, and the fiberglass mask he pulled on for the final few years of his amateur career, manufactured by the man who made the mask with which Canadiens legend Jacques Plante forever changed the face of goaltending.

"I told [wife] Mireille that for a long time I'd wanted to give Martin my Olympic sweater and my mask. I've thought that he deserved to have them," Denis told me during his drive back to Montreal with a friend. "I thought more about this after I recovered from my adventure in the hospital. I had to give them to Martin. When I'm gone, I don't know where they'd go. Now, I know that he has them."

Days before that cancer surgery, Martin had flown into Montreal to give his father the game puck marking the Devils goalie's NHL-leading 117th career shutout, his 140th including the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the time, earned hours after he had learned of Denis' illness.

It was the only shutout puck not in Martin Brodeur's trophy case. With profound sadness, he returned it to his collection upon his father's passing at age 82 in September 2013, unable to beat the cancer that returned.

On Jan. 14, 2014, Martin Brodeur would face the Canadiens in Montreal one final time. He met the media at Bell Centre the day before the game, with his brother, Denis Jr., on hand to take photos.

"The Montreal Canadiens have been a big part of my family," Martin said at the time. "I never played for them and probably will never play for them, but I think [they were] a big part of me growing up and my career with my dad."

The following night, he made 29 saves in a 4-1 victory. Martin Brodeur was named first star - just as he had been 21 years earlier, the first time he won in his hometown.

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