Brodeur credits Lemaire for making an impact
|Brodeur and the Devils took the 1995 Stanley Cup under then-head coach Jacques Lemaire.|
Now in his eighth season as the head coach of the Minnesota Wild, Lemaire helped to shape Brodeur’s early days in the NHL while guiding the Devils to their first-ever Stanley Cup title in 1995.
Brodeur has never forgotten Lemaire’s impact, even as he has added one achievement after another to his resume, including two more Cups and four Vezina trophies.
“He gave me the shot to play here, so for me that’s always special,” Brodeur said. “Any coach that you win a Stanley Cup with, I think you remember a lot. At the end of the day you always need someone to manage you and your team to get to a successful point. He’s the one that gave me my chance, so he’s always going to have a special place for me in my career.”
With the Wild set to face the Devils in New Jersey for the first time since 2005, Lemaire had a chance to reflect on Brodeur’s accomplishments. What Lemaire remembers most about Brodeur had more to do with personality than puck-stopping.
“When I think about Marty, first thing that comes to my mind is, we all know how well he plays the game, but when the name is mentioned, I think about the person,” Lemaire said. “Along the way, you meet all kinds of goaltenders, and they’re special, some of them. When I think about him, he’s a down-to-earth guy, someone that’s very easy to get along with; that knows what he wants; that’s not affected by pressure. You have a lot of goaltenders that get into a bubble before games. Not this guy. This guy, it’s like he’s going on a vacation.”
Lemaire was known for instituting the neutral zone trap-style of hockey that limited opponents’ scoring chances while waiting for opportunities to counterattack. The system led to close, low-scoring games that, Brodeur said, put the team in a better position to succeed come playoff time.
“It prepared you for big games,” Brodeur said. “You go through a season and play these games, next thing you get to the playoffs, and you get to an overtime or a game that’s close and you learn how to win those close games. No, we didn’t score many goals, but we didn’t allow many either. Definitely prepared the team to deal with one-goal games and have the right attitudes and right habits for what to do.”
But Brodeur believes Lemaire's precise methods allowed him to mature on the ice.
“Jacques was a perfectionist as far as how we played,” Brodeur said. “It wasn’t a question of, ‘You get back to your zone and stop in this area.’ He would take a stick and make a mark on the ice and say, ‘You stop there, and I guarantee the puck will come to you. Just don’t move.’ That was the type of coach he was. Demanding to a certain extent, but success came with it. For me, every game was a tight game, we had a chance to win. It brings you to a good level in your career when you start without having to face too many shots or play in too many wild games.”
Brodeur split the goaltending workload with Chris Terreri during the 1993-94 regular season before Lemaire turned to the rookie in the playoffs. Brodeur went 27-11-8 with a 2.40 goals-against average and three shutouts in 47 appearances, then started all but three games in the ‘94 postseason. A year later, the Devils upset Detroit in a Finals sweep.
“I thought that he had confidence, but he gave you that feeling,” Lemaire said. “I remember a few times, we had a choice to play him this game or the other game, he always picked the big game. You could see the type of guy that he is. When he first came up, he was very athletic, a kid that you could tell needed a break; a good start.”
As for trusting in Brodeur, it was a no-brainer.
“He turned out to be good, so it was easy,” Lemaire said. “It wasn’t a big decision.”
• The Wild visited Prudential Center for the first time, and Lemaire had high praise for the facility. He spoke about the continued success the Devils have had since the ‘95 run.
“It’s fun to see,” he said. “Larry [Robinson] won a Cup after me, Pat [Burns] won a Cup after me, and you look at the organization this year, they still have a good team and they’ll be fighting to get to the Finals. It’s good that it stays there and keeps going.”
“Any time you switch teams you look to see when you’re playing that team again,” Rolston said. “But I have nothing but good things and good memories of playing in Minnesota and playing for Jacques there. It was a great fit for me at the time. Any time you play your old team it’s a little different, but I’ve turned the page.”
Like Brodeur, Rolston said Lemaire had a major influence on his growth as a player.
“Jacques obviously had a profound effect on me, and probably extended my career by teaching me the defensive side of the game,”Rolston said. “He’s a great teacher, and all the young guys that he has now are going to learn that as they get older. You’re not going to hear anything bad from the older players in this League that have played for him.”
• Lemaire said his trap can be seen more and more as squads throughout the League try to compete with less.
“Now, every team plays the same way,” he said. “I look at other teams, it’s like I coached them for five years. Everyone is pretty much the same. You get Detroit that’s different, Montreal that’s a little different. But they’re all 1-2-2. You play to get full control; they all play the trap.”
The Devils, however, stand out from the pack.
“With them, their first man is more aggressive,” Lemaire said. “We get teams in the West with four guys at the blue line, more than the trap, it’s like a lock. You have no choice but to shoot it in from the blueline. That’s normal because if you’re not as strong as the other team, that’s the way you’re going to play: more defensive.”