Everything happened pretty quickly, but it sure felt like a legitimate sighting of a rare, mythical creature.
In hockey, they call this beast of lore the two-pad stack.
New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur used the venerable sprawling tactic to thwart a pair of scoring chances by Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty on Monday – he remains a virtuoso of old-school techniques mostly because, well, he’s old.
Now, 41 isn’t really all that ancient, but Brodeur has now reached the age where he has kids old enough to join him in the dressing room in adult-sized uniforms.
The Devils drafted 18-year-old Anthony Brodeur, also a goalie, this summer, like Gordie Howe and his boys, Mark and Marty, a father and son attended the same NHL training camp.
It’s an unmistakable statement that one is officially long in the tooth.
“Yes, yes I am,” Brodeur said. “But it’s a great feeling to have an experience like that. It’s funny he played a minor-league game against [former Devils backup] Yann Danis. So [to Yann], I was like, ‘Don’t think I’m old, you’re old, too. You played with his dad.’”
The younger Brodeur left home at 14 to play prep-school hockey, so his father said it was nice to have him around the family dinner table again during camp – he was cut earlier this week, and sent back to the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL.
“Even though he’s gone, I’ve been checking up on him, the other night he played his first game in Rouyn-Noranda, [Que.] I watched it on the Internet … it’s fun to have him in the organization,” he said.
“It was a little strange, I was wondering what he’d call me, whether it would be just ‘Hey’ or ‘Hey, dad.’ He said, ‘Hey, dad.’ So I guess he wasn’t too shy.”
The laid-back Brodeur isn’t inclined to fuss about the future, though he freely admits after a quarter-century of spending every day at the rink he has started to imagine life away from it.
“It’s going to be hard. I might be at the rink, but not playing hockey,” he said with a laugh.
For now, though, he doesn’t sound like a guy who’s thinking about collecting his gold watch; while Brodeur says “the body is not as easy to kick start” as it once was, his expectation for the year remains the same: “I want to play as many games as possible.”
While the Devils aren’t ushering Brodeur toward the door, the number likely won’t be as high as it’s been.
Brodeur’s .901 save percentage in the lockout-shortened 2013 season was the lowest of his 20-year career, and his even-strength save percentage – broadly considered a key performance metric – was 32nd among NHL goalies who had 10 or more starts.
His stats have been in steady decline since 2008, the year he won the last of his four Vézina Trophies, and injuries have started piling up since he missed most of the 2008-09 season after elbow surgery (more recently, he missed 12 games in 2013 with back and neck problems).
But that doesn’t mean he’s a spent force; according to advanced stats site behindthenet.ca, he still managed to finish ninth among regular starters last season in goals allowed per 60 minutes.
Devils bench boss Peter DeBoer, who coached against Brodeur for several years, said it wasn’t until he arrived in Newark that he fully appreciated his true talent: rising to the big occasions.
“You hear about it, but [when] you see it first hand, it’s really something unique and special,” the head coach said.
Is Brodeur the same goalie he was in the prime of his career, or even during the Devils’ surprise Stanley Cup final appearance in 2012? Certainly not.
Bursting onto the stage is the easy part, knowing when to exit gracefully is harder, but Brodeur has evidently earned the right to choose the moment of his departure.
When it comes – Brodeur’s contract runs out next summer, so there’s at least a theoretical possibility it could be soon – the Devils have a plan.
DeBoer made it plain nominal backup Cory Schneider will get playing time.
“We’ve got a league-high number of back-to-back games this year, which will lend itself to playing both guys,” he said.
When Brodeur hangs up his pads, his legend will endure – and be argued over loudly, he has a community of online detractors who contend he’s long been carried by superior teammates.
The fact is Brodeur has won more games, posted more shutouts, made more saves and played more minutes than any goalie in the history of the game. Oh, and he’s collected a trio of Stanley Cup rings along the way.
He’s inspired a generation of disciples – most netminders who use a hybrid style have incorporated elements of his game.
“He’s a special goaltender, he’s played the same way his whole career, he’s still got the best goalie sense in the league, he’s unbelievable at reading shots,” said Habs netminder Carey Price, who grew up idolizing Brodeur, “there’s a reason he’s been around so long.”
The St-Leonard, Que., product has also provided lasting memories not only fans, but also to young NHLers.
Habs forward Brendan Gallagher scored his first NHL goal against Brodeur – a top-corner snipe – and admitted it’s just that extra little bit special to have notched it against a legend.
“He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame one day, arguably the best goalie who ever played, so it’s pretty cool to be able to say that,” said Gallagher, who is only a couple of years older than Anthony Brodeur.
There’s every expectation some other young up-and-comer will be able to make the same boast this season.
But there’s also a firm sense Martin Brodeur feels he can leave the NHL franchise he helped build knowing the net is in good hands. Though the old dog still has some fight left in him, Brodeur recognizes Schneider’s turn will come, and that it’s to the benefit of the team.
“I think everyone was scared that I was going to retire and what’s going to happen,” he said. “Now, that question won’t have to be asked for a while.”