On Hockey Hall of Fame Friday, Martin Brodeur stands a little taller, walks a little faster, talks a little louder and reaches beyond the crowd.
Even among the five greats being inducted alongside him.
There may have been questions about the elections of Gary Bettman and Willie O’Ree in the builders category. There may have been questions about Jayna Hefford, as there are every year about women and whether any will be welcomed. There may have been doubts about Martin St. Louis, first time eligible, who is used to being overlooked. And as for Alexander Yakushev, well, he’s been passed over for decades, so he’d probably given up any hope in getting to the Hall, if he ever believed it to be possible.
But it’s different for Brodeur. He’s different, he’s an outlier, an original: The slam dunk of this class. The slam dunk of any class.
If his vote wasn’t 18-0 among the Hall selection committee, then whomever voted against him should be asked to leave immediately.
There has never been anyone like Brodeur before, and there may never be anyone like him again. The way he played. The number of games he played. The style he played. The records he broke. The way he moved the puck.
I never thought anybody would beat Terry Sawchuk’s mark of 103 shutouts. Brodeur ended his career with 125.
I never thought anybody could start 70 games, year after year. Brodeur did it 12 times. The giants of his day — Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour — combined to start more than 70 games four times.
He played a style you can’t really explain. The best often do.
He wasn’t a copycat butterfly goalie the way so many NHL goalies are today.
He wasn’t a standup goalie, the way so many who came before him were. He was a little of this and a little of that.
He was something of a hybrid, a part stand-up, part-butterfly goalie who rocked back and forth on his skates. When asked on Friday what his style was, he laughed and said: “Who knows?”
New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur hoists the Stanley Cup after beating the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the 2003 Stanley Cup final. THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE
When he came to the end of his career — and he stayed for every last second he could in the NHL — he had more wins than any goalie who had ever played. Of all his marks — the three Stanley Cups, the four Vezinas, the rookie of the year, the two Olympic gold medals — that’s the one that matters most to him. Brodeur was pragmatic to the end of his career.
“I don’t care what you say, if your goalie isn’t stopping the puck, you’re not winning the game, said Brodeur.
It sounds both basic and simple, but it’s neither of those things. New Jersey never had to worry about who was playing goal, or what kind of goal he was going to play: He started 1,471 games, regular-season and playoffs, and he happened to be on the winning team 804 times. Hasek played in 854 games in total, and would be top-three on anybody’s list of the greatest ever. Brodeur, as always, is in the conversation.
“I was the best,” said Brodeur. “Just ask him (my dad).”
He is the Hall of Famer of Hall of Famers in this class. A son of a goalie, whose dad the wonderful photographer, passed away five years ago.
“You wish that everybody you love and who supported you could be here,” said Brodeur. “For me, I’ve lived so many experiences with my family through the Olympic games and Stanley Cup runs and the NHL awards. I know this is the biggest one. They’ll be up there and they’ll enjoy it.”
He was talking about his father Denis, the goalie-turned-photographer. He was talking about his brother Claude, who passed away not that long ago.
This is something you’d want to share with everyone and, quietly and privately and outwardly, he is sharing the weekend with those who have made it here, and those who are gone.
Of his father, who played goal for Team Canada at an Olympics, Brodeur said: “I think he lived, what he wanted to live, through me.”
Brodeur, who now works on the business side of operations for the Devils, watched the Leafs game on Friday night while sitting beside his long-time goaltending coach Jacques Caron. Lou Lamoriello, who drafted him, is coming for the ceremony on Monday, and so is former coach Larry Robinson.
It’s a time to celebrate, a time to take stock of everything that has happened, a time to reflect on who is here and who isn’t.
A time to realize how goaltending has changed, how hockey has changed, how a game that once had Brodeur, Roy, Hasek and Belfour doesn’t have a definitive best goalie anymore.
A time to take it all in, the adulation, the celebration, the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“This is as good as it gets,” said Brodeur, flashing his brand-new Hall of Fame ring. “This is the ultimate. This is a great moment.
“And this is it, the last hurrah, the last recognition I’m going to get.”