He’s been there forever, it seems, that smiling face behind the goaltender’s mask in the scrums around his net.
No matter how much the Los Angeles Kings roar through his crease, knocking over the potted plants and canapés, New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur just grins. Keep it up all you want, boys, he seems to say in those television close-ups, you aren’t going to bother me.
His teammates say it is that calm demeanour that settles them during hard times, like the jackpot they’re in right now. The Devils avoided the end of theirs and everyone else’s hockey season on Wednesday by winning Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. But because the Kings are still in charge of the best-of-seven series with a 3-1 lead, the Devils have to do it again Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
“You try to take everything out,” Brodeur said after the Devils’ practice Friday. “All the outside things that happen in a hockey game, there’s a lot of things you can’t control. So if you get affected by them, you know it makes your job a lot harder.”
Given the reputation goaltenders have for being high-strung and eccentric, it seems odd the Devils take their relaxation cues from Brodeur. But he is a legendary exception to the rule, as shown in the third and fourth games of the series, in Los Angeles.
When the teams lined up for the anthems, there was a large group of children on the ice and some encroached on Brodeur’s crease. He found himself crowded out in the third game and decided to line up with his teammates at the blueline for the fourth game. A lot of goaltenders would have sent the kids running for cover.
“I tried to stay in my crease the first game and it didn’t work so I figured I’d move up to the blueline,” Brodeur said with a laugh. “Hopefully, they won’t have anything where I stand [Saturday]. Usually goalies are a little wacky with these things.”
In his 18 NHL seasons, Brodeur has seen just about everything that can be thrown at a team. While he isn’t sure he’s mastered the art of Zen and crease maintenance, he knows there is no use getting exercised about matters out of his control.
Brodeur may be 40, but he’s been the best Devils player in the series. If their penalty killers, goal scorers and power play performed nearly as well, the Devils would not be at the brink.
“I have enough to worry about what I need to do without worrying about the offence or the PK or guys are trying to hit me or the referee’s not making the call,” Brodeur said. “You just concentrate on what you need to do and everybody else should do the same thing and concentrate on their game.”
When the other players look across the room and see Brodeur, they find it easier to do just that.
“Marty never gets rattled and that’s good for the team, no question,” veteran forward Patrik Elias said.
Centre Adam Henrique, 22, is in his first Stanley Cup tournament and finds himself watching Brodeur a lot.
“He’s been through everything, it seems,” Henrique said. “He stays calm through the whole game. It feeds throughout the room. Whatever the situation, we stay calm.”
Brodeur says he was fortunate to find himself in pressure situations relatively early in his career. The Devils appeared in three Cup finals from 2000 to 2003, winning two, and Brodeur backstopped the Canadian team that won the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Now that he is back in a Cup final for the first time in nine years, Brodeur said he draws on what he learned in those experiences.
But there are things any man of 40 worries about. Even things he can’t control, such as what happens when his 17-year-old son, who just got his driver’s licence, hit the road Friday for his first solo jaunt in dad’s car.
“I’m so older than the other guys, I have different stuff to [think about],” Brodeur said. “When you get older, a lot more things happen around you. My kid’s driving today. I have to worry about that.”