It was a Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg. Martin Brodeur set up camp in his hotel room and fired up his laptop to watch his son play hockey two provinces and almost 2,000 miles away. You have to wonder what was going through his mind. On one hand, modern technology had allowed him to connect with his son in a way he couldn’t possibly conceive when he began his Hall of Fame career 20 years ago. On the other, that day would have been his father’s 83rd birthday and for the first time in Martin’s life, that connection was gone.
There aren’t many NHL players who find themselves in those kinds of life circumstances. None of them, save Gordie Howe 34 years ago, has ever shared a dressing room with his progeny during training camp. To be sure, none has ever experienced the thrill of announcing the draft selection of his own son by the same team with which he has won three Stanley Cups and compiled more wins, losses, ties and shutouts than any goaltender in NHL history.
But losing a parent? If we live long enough, that happens to all of us and we all have our own ways of dealing with it. Martin has his own hockey career to keep him occupied. And when that doesn’t provide enough comfort, he can turn his attention to his two goaltending sons, 18-year-old Anthony and 17-year-old Jeremy. (Jeremy’s twin brother William is a grinding winger who plays midget AAA and is the obvious black sheep of the family.) But when things are so raw and fresh, sometimes there is nothing that can quell the melancholic feelings. “I’m pretty strong about it, but it’s definitely difficult,” Martin says. “After a game, for 20 years my first instinct was to get on the bus and call my dad. I still call my mom, but it’s not the same.”
Denis Brodeur was a goaltender, too, a darn good one in the days when there were only six teams and none carried a backup. He bounced around the minors and played a lot of high-level senior hockey before winning a bronze medal with the Canadian Olympic team in 1956. Denis went on to forge a legendary career as a photographer for the Montreal Canadiens and Expos, often working with his young son, Martin, serving as his lighting assistant. But this is a story about a family of goaltenders, about a man who passed on his love for the game and the position to his son, who many would argue became better at it than anyone who has ever played the game, before passing the torch to two of his sons. Anthony is platooning this season with the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec League and Jeremy, drafted last spring by the Ontario League’s Oshawa Generals, is putting up some absolutely gaudy numbers with the prep team at the hockey factory known as Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn.
Only time will tell whether Anthony or Jeremy, or both, will follow in their father’s crease shavings to the best league in the world. But even if neither ever plays a game, their father will never be dead as long as they are alive, as the saying goes. Anthony bears a remarkable resemblance to his dad physically and talking to Jeremy is tantamount to having a conversation with a teenaged Martin. But most of all, the three of them are as comfortable in their own skin and as well adjusted as any human could possibly be. Perhaps it’s easy to be that laid back when you are the best goaltender in the world and have made enough money to secure the futures of your children and grandchildren, but Martin was that way long before he became a big deal. And if there is one thing he has ingrained in his sons, far more than playing the angles and handling the puck, it’s the importance of a positive attitude and treating others with the respect you would like afforded to yourself.
Martin has done a good job being a hockey parent without being a stage parent. Part of that has to do with the fact his kids had to leave home at 14 to pursue a higher level of hockey and Martin couldn’t be there for every game and practice. But that humble, almost too-good-to-be-true demeanor has a way of transcending generations with the Brodeurs. And Melanie, Martin’s ex-wife, is on board on that front as well. Tom Ward, who coached Anthony last season and coaches Jeremy at Shattuck-St. Mary’s this season, said the two have been remarkable in their hands-off approach to their sons’ hockey careers. And Ward has seen instances where Melanie has made it clear to her sons having Brodeur as a last name “doesn’t mean s--- and that you still say please and thank you and treat people with respect.”
But one thing Martin can’t do is play hockey for his sons, nor would he want to. It’s difficult to watch his sons play now, but only a little bit. He can see almost all of Anthony’s games through the QMJHL’s live streaming and occasionally Jeremy’s when Shattuck-St. Mary’s provides a podcast of their games against teams made up of the best high school players in Minnesota. He might take issue with Jeremy going into his butterfly a little too often, but there never has been, nor will there ever be, pressure for the boys to approach the standard set by their father. “I tell them that when somebody asks about that, you have one answer,” Martin says. “ ‘Probably no one is going to follow what my dad did and I don’t expect myself to do it.’ And I tell them not to be afraid to say it and don’t dream about it because it’s going to be a tough one to live up to.”
And true to form, Anthony says, “To be honest, it’s not fair to put anyone up to that task. It’s never been done. I can try my best to do it, but it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t because nobody else has either.”
David Conte is New Jersey’s executive vice-president and the director of scouting and was the man most responsible for the Devils taking Martin 20th overall in the 1990 draft. He describes what happened at the 2013 draft in June at the Prudential Center as, “one of the most heartwarming things that has ever happened to me in hockey. It gave me chills.”
The Devils had made their sixth-round selection and didn’t own a seventh-rounder. Right around the time Anthony wondered whether he should quietly exit the arena, he received a two-word text from his father that said, “Don’t leave.” As it turned out, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello made a trade for a seventh-rounder and with the fourth-last pick of the draft, allowed Martin to announce that the Devils had selected Anthony. Was it a favor to the iconic goaltender? Perhaps, but if it was, it was well earned. Now let’s fast-forward to late this season. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, the Olympiques are finished their season and the Devils, the last team in the league to earn a victory this season, are playing for nothing substantial down the stretch. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Lamoriello to sign Anthony to an entry-level deal, then play him as a backup in one game, spelling off his famous father halfway through the game? Hey, we can dream, can’t we?
Father and son didn’t see much of each other through training camp, but Dad was impressed with the way his son comported himself during his short stay with the Devils in the pre-season. Martin acknowledges it was a little awkward. He wanted to give his son space, but Anthony understandably wanted to have his father close to him at times. After all, Anthony grew up in the Devils dressing room, so there was undoubtedly a comfort level there. The Brodeur kids have ridden in Stanley Cup parades, been to All-Star Games and watched their father win Olympic gold medals, so they’re probably a little more prepared than your garden variety wide-eyed rookie. But really, what do you do when you see your father in the workplace. Do you call him by his first name or the one you’ve used since you were in diapers? “It was weird having him call me Dad in front of all my teammates,” Martin says. “But other than that, it was like he was there forever, not like he was taking liberties or anything, but he was comfortable. I wasn’t comfortable when I first came in. I wouldn’t even look anyone in the eye.”
Martin and Anthony never crossed paths on the ice and, truth be told, neither can remember the last time he was on the ice with the other. The Devils haven’t won the Cup since 2003, so it has been quite some time since there have been any summer ball hockey tournaments in the streets of Saint-Leonard, not far from where Arena Martin-Brodeur stands. And it’s rather difficult to get a family game going when three of them are goalies and only one is a skater. “We’re pretty talented forwards, too,” Anthony says.
Somewhere along the line, Martin’s twin sons fell off the rails. William became a forward and Jeremy became a butterfly goaltender, eschewing the stand-up, square-to-the-shooter style that made his father famous and that his older brother had the good sense to adopt. But Anthony has carved his own path by taking No. 39 in Gatineau and abandoning his father’s No. 30. Jeremy is proving to be his own man by playing the percentages and being more of a 21st-century goaltender. “My dad and my brother see my games on podcast and they’re always on me about that,” Jeremy says. “My dad will say, ‘You played well, but why were you on your knees all game?’ The only thing he really ever said to me and my brother growing up was, ‘Stop the puck.’ ”
That would be a little like Archie Manning telling Peyton and Eli to just throw the ball or tantamount to Bobby Hull telling Brett to simply wind up and crank it. And who knows, maybe that’s all they ever did. After all, despite the proponents of the 10,000 Hour Rule, athletic talent cannot be taught. In many cases, you have it or you don’t and it’s clear the Brodeur sons have some of their father’s natural ability to stop pucks and read the game in their DNA.
Like his older brother, Jeremy has done a remarkable job of not allowing the Brodeur name to create any undue pressure. His father refers to Jeremy as incredibly laid-back and, “the nicest kid you’ll ever meet,” something Martin thinks might have to change a little if his son ever hopes to make it to the NHL. When Jeremy steps on the ice, the last thing that enters his mind is living up to the legacy created by his father. “There’s no reason why it should bother me,” Jeremy says. “It’s not like it’s something I chose. It’s something I live with.”
And aside from the genes and the occasional advice to his son to stay on his feet, Martin has had little to do with the eye-popping numbers his son has posted this season. Jeremy, who won’t be eligible for the NHL draft until 2015, has done that by himself. And while there is a connection from the Generals to the Devils through New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer, it won’t get him an automatic job in the OHL. In fact, Jeremy went back to Shattuck-St. Mary’s this season because the Generals had two veteran goalies and though Jeremy would have been able to practice with the team, he likely wouldn’t have played more than a handful of games. The younger Brodeur left to maintain his eligibility for U.S. college hockey, but his stated preference is to go back to camp in Oshawa next season and earn a starting spot on the Generals.
So you could say things are going rather swimmingly for the Brodeurs these days. Martin’s legacy and his place in the Hall of Fame are secure regardless of how this season turns out or whether he continues his career beyond 2013-14. Being one of the three goalies for the Canadian Olympic team is a longshot, but Martin already has two gold medals. His sons’ careers are just blossoming and it’s exciting to think about the possibilities that might lie ahead. “Now if the Devils could just start winning some games,” Jeremy cracks.
Kids these days.