By Larry Wigge
Martin Brodeur's mind is like a compass. You can always find your way home when the St. Jean, Quebec, native, is in goal.
There is no contradiction here. Brodeur is the ONLY goaltender in NHL history to appear in playoff games as both a teen-ager and as a 40-year-old.
Nothing has changed since his first playoff game in 1992 against Boston until now, where he is the big 4-0. One win away from leading the New Jersey Devils to the Eastern Conference finals over the Philadelphia Flyers.
His reflexes might be a touch slower or his reaction a tiny bit late. But he knows exactly where he should be to stop any kind of shot ... and, time or his age, has not replaced that exquisite technique.
"Marty has a photographic mind like a quarterback," St. Louis Blues president John Davidson said, himself a former goaltender. "His mind reads the plays and he reacts to help make it easier for his teammates.
"What makes Marty so good, however, is he isn't a stereotypical French-Canadian goalie in that his technique isn't static in his butterfly style like the others. Brodeur is innovative like Patrick Roy. He can spread-eagle to make a low toe save, stack his pads, show you an opening and then close it with his quickness, etc., etc., etc."
There's been more over to Brodeur through the years with the Devils. He won the Rookie of the Year, four times the Jennings Trophy or four times the winner of the Vezina Trophy as the league top goaltender. He's won the gold medal in 2002 and three Cups.
"Ahead by a goal or down by a goal there is no difference in Marty," former goalie turned broadcast Darren Pang revealed. "He's got some Grant Fuhr in him. There's no fear in him."
Brodeur celebrated his 40th birthday on Sunday by posting a 4-2 win. He became the oldest goaltender in NHL history to start a playoff game on his birthday, breaking the mark set by Chicago's Tony Esposito when he shut out the Blues 2-0 on his 39th birthday on April 23, 1982.
To say that Martin Brodeur has been at this business of stopping puck a long time would be ridiculous. It's been impeccable the way he shuts down the opposing teams offense for so long.
You may remember of Brodeur got his start in goal and in photography while growing up in Montreal. His father, Denis, was the longtime Canadiens photographer -- and he trained Marty with the cameras. Hey, the young netminder got to a chance to watch his favorite, Patrick Roy, up close and personal.
The age or ageless Brodeur was celebrating with his family one night before turning the actual occasion. Suddenly, he noticed there weren't quite enough candles on fire.
"I was a little disappointed," the Devils goalie laughed. "There were only 20 or so. So they only went halfway on the candles. Couldn't find a big enough cake, I guess."
Sharp and alert as always. In goal and at counting candles. Strange isn't it, how we have not heard Brodeur's name as much deep into the playoffs as we did five times in his first 11 seasons. With three Stanley Cup titles to his credit and one finals loss to Ray Bourque and the Colorado Avalanche.
But here we are again -- and some suggest it might not be his last.
"I'm really enjoying this ride, regardless of what's going to happen in the next month or two," Brodeur said. "I'm enjoying coming to the rink and playing hockey. I don't want to sit back and, five years from now, say I should have played one more year."
Or yet another year ...
Brodeur, a first-round draft pick, 20th overall, in 1990 NHL Entry Draft, hasn't missed a beat despite the fact he's in his 18th season. It's something Devils coach Peter DeBoer doesn't take for granted.
"For a guy in his 40's, he looks a lot better than I do and that's a credit to him," DeBoer said. "It's amazing the level he's at, especially the number of games he's played. This guy hasn't been a 50-game a year guy ... he's 70 or 80, plus playoffs, and that's a lot of games on that body. But it looks like he's not done yet. He's got some years left in him.
"That's vintage Marty Brodeur. We've come to expect that around here."
Brodeur went 31-21-4 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 59 appearances this season. Far from the usual 30-win seasons -- 14 (compared to Roy).
Reminders of Game 7's over the past have the fondest memories, said Brodeur, "The one against Anaheim, winning the Cup in Game 7 (in 2003), that's pretty good."
There was also Game 3, when Brodeur was yanked after surrendering a 3-0 lead. But it was never anyone else's net but Martin.
Said DeBoer, "He's just mentally tougher and is able to handle those highs and lows without affecting his game."
Teammates old and new say the Devils feed off of Brodeur's cool and confident demeanor.
"Marty is like the battery that makes us tick," said former captain Scott Stevens.
An nine-time 30-goal scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk has seen plenty of Brodeur over the years -- especially with the Atlanta Thrashers.
"He has that playoff experience. He has given us a chance to win, especially in the overtimes," Kovalchuk explained. "He is now 40 ... but he is playing like he is going to turn 30."
Martin Brodeur like any other player has been challenged and he has changed the way has played over the years. You wouldn't expect any different from him.
"It had to change a little bit with the way I play around my crease ... I'm not as aggressive the way I used to be," Brodeur said. "I still do a lot of different things that I used to when I was younger. I still play the puck a lot, but I'm also a little more patient and sit back a little more just because hockey is so different now.
"A lot of scoring chances are coming from the goal mouth in, and if you challenge too much, sometimes you get in trouble. I get caught once in a while because it's just old habits that are kind of hard to shake off, but I'm working hard at it."
We'll let the late, great Devils coach Pat Burns tell you what he felt in Martin Brodeur's play.
"You don't really know a player until you have to live with him, day in and day out," recalled Burns. "He loves this game. He loves playing and practicing -- and he hates to give up a goal, even in practice.
"Most of all, he's a human being. He's always ready to help his teammates. He doesn't put himself above anybody. He's on an even keel all the time. He doesn't have 65,000 different superstitions. He's not an actor, he's a real person."
Pretty good epitaph, eh? Even if Brodeur is 40.