Brodeur's greatness shaped by his father's advice
Monday, 03.09.2009 / 9:13 AM / Features
NHL.com Staff Writer
"I don't want to take all the credit," Martin Brodeur's 78-year-old father told NHL.com, "but that's the truth."
Denis, a goaltender on Canada's 1956 Olympic team, said the only time he ever went on the ice with Martin was when his son was 13 and playing pee-wee hockey. Denis laced 'em up so he could give Martin a few pointers on how to play the puck behind the net.
Five years later, only hours after Martin was selected by the Devils with the 20th pick in the 1990 Entry Draft, Denis told him that if he was going to be respected as a professional, he had to be himself, which meant being polite, friendly and available to the media. Also, never, ever say anything that gets a teammate in trouble.
Play the puck. Be yourself.
"These are the two things that I stressed to him," Denis said.
Dad did a pretty good job, eh?
Not only is Brodeur known as arguably the best puck-handling goaltender in NHL history, he also is an incredibly likeable and jovial player, one who always is willing to share his time and thoughts to anyone with a pen or a microphone.
"My dad showed me the ropes of how to conduct myself around the game," Brodeur told NHL.com. "It's one thing to play the game. A lot of people do. But one of the things my dad really stressed is how I am with people and how I deal with having reporters around me and how you need to have the respect of the other people.
"It's part of who I am."
It's part of who he always has been.
Martin Brodeur was born into the professional sports world. For years, Denis was one of Canada's leading sports photographers. He started his career in the newspaper business, and then became the team photographer for the Montreal Canadiens and Expos.
Denis always shared the stories of his day's work with his youngest son, hoping they would serve as a guide should he one day find himself in the spotlight as a professional athlete.
"I was able to have a feel of (being a pro athlete) because my dad had to work with them," Martin said. "He would come back from work and we would talk about it. He would say, this guy was not shaven, or this guy made me wait for two hours, or this guy was the nicest guy. I didn't want to be the guy that the photographer went back and talked about. Not that my dad was doing it in a bad way; he was just saying it the way it was."
Denis said most of his negative stories about professional athletes centered around baseball players, some of which Martin and his brother, Denis Jr., saw unfold. Each spring, the brothers would fly south to West Palm Beach, Fla., to spend time at the Expos' spring training facility.
"(Martin) would see me work and I used to tell him all the time, when training camp started in hockey the Montreal Canadiens gave me a list of players and each of them came one after one to my room and it was really well organized," Denis said. "When I was in Florida, I told him to notice the change. Baseball players are not the same as hockey players. They would say, 'I don't feel like taking pictures today. I'll do it tomorrow.' In baseball the guys were a little more -- how can I say the right word -- fancy. I would have to tell the PR guy I would never work with the player again. In hockey, I never had to say anything. These are the little things he heard me talking about."
Denis' work was on display throughout their house in the Montreal suburb of St-Leonard. It was as if hockey and baseball history was playing out in a story with each passing step from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen.
Players also would visit on occasion to work and dine. Martin specifically remembers Guy Lafleur coming over.
"He has seen hockey pictures in the house all his life," Denis said. "The guys used to come here for some pictures, so he has seen sports people around my place all the time."
Ironically, Denis said, "When I was taking hockey pictures, my main focus was on goaltenders. I think Martin is the kind of guy that reacts to others, and he used to see many goaltenders around the house."
Martin also put in his own photo requests. When he was in his early teens, he asked his father for three specific photos to hang in his bedroom as a collage.
"Patrick Roy. Ron Hextall. Sean Burke," Denis said. "They were in black and white. These are the three guys that inspired him."
Why those three?
"It was the positioning and poise of Sean Burke, Patrick Roy for his butterfly style, and Ron Hextall for his ability to play with the puck and for his edge," Denis Brodeur Jr., Martin's brother, explained to NHL.com. "Oh, but it was Patrick (he idolized the most). For every Montreal kid, Patrick was their guy."
Maybe so, but the true idol in the Brodeur household is a man, now 78, whose advice from two decades ago still serves his superstar son well.
"My dad is a cool guy," Denis Brodeur Jr. said. "Maybe Marty doesn't know it, but he's a lot like my dad."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.