Marty played the goalie position like no one ever has and no one ever will. I don't mean he played it better, although, some may argue that is true. I'm not here to talk about his accolades or his place among the all-time greats. Gerard already talked about his accomplishments and Mike already spoke to his value. That leaves it to me to describe the experience -- what it was like to watch Brodeur play the goalie position in incomparable fashion?
We all loved to watch Marty. His high glove was among the best in NHL history. That glove in his left hand got so high, it made it to the right side of his body. I played goalie in every sport I ever played (floor/roller/ice hockey, indoor/outdoor soccer, and lacrosse) because I wanted the crowed to go wild the way the Devils fans went wild every time Marty did something absolutely ridiculous. Why was he so unique? The main reason was that he was not a butterfly goalie. I'll do my best to explain a few things about him that are particularly distinct.
T-Push: At the heart of Brodeur's deviation from butterfly is the difference in lateral movement. InGoal Magazine did a fascinating Q&A with Marty on his style and the landscape of goaltending among other things. In it, Marty says:
Actually when I was younger, when I was playing junior, my whole thing was the butterfly. I was going down a lot. I had the wide stance, both feet were really wide and my knees were locked in, I was a lot different than I am now, that’s for sure. [Devils Goalie Coach] Jacques Caron wanted me to be a more agile, mobile goalie, not just a blocking goalie. It’s funny the way you do the shuffle, I don’t really do the shuffle with my skate. We T-push everywhere instead of other goalies that drive everywhere, and you don’t see goalies T-push anymore.
A T-push is when you make a "T" with your skates and push to cover a lot of ground fast. This is one of the big differences between Brodeur and the modern butterfly goalie. A butterfly goalie will have the same pushing leg, but instead of turning the gliding skate perpendicular to facilitate the motion, they take the skate out of the equation entirely and glide on the pad, thus taking out the bottom of the net completely. Most goalies today are butterfly and all goalie coaches teach it. However, even the goalies that aren't butterfly still typically use this method of lateral motion. In fact, goalies like Jonathan Quick do this even more. Look at this video of Quick just sliding all over the place almost like a Super-butterfly. This nuance is one of the most distinct idiosyncrasies of his Marty's game.
Stacking the Pads- Everyone's favorite. A consequence of the T-push is that it is difficult to move laterally and still be in a good position to make a save. Marty's solution is extremely flexible, disorienting, inefficient, yet effective. Rather than gliding, Marty would slide over and stack his pads with the glove on top. To get into that position, his stick hand would either rest on the ground to protect the ice vacated by his pads during the stacking, or, in the case of breakaways, launch into a frantic poke-check. The problem is that his torso is nowhere near the action. He made up for this with a lightening quick glove over the top of the stack. Or, in the particularly enjoyable cases, by windmilling.
Playing on his Stomach- This is one of the few Martyisms that might have hung around even in a butterfly technique. This is not as much a consequence of his technique as of his aggression. Even when on his pads, Marty wants to make a play. The modern goalie plays the odds, buy Marty believed in his athleticism one-on-one to either poke check or glove save from his stomach. Now sometimes he ended up on his stomach really fast. Due to this early position of desperation, he needed to come up with a Hail Mary, if the guy didn't bite. Thus the scorpion was born. By the way, that's not the only time he did that. Like...what??
Marty was not a butterfly goalie. He was a Marty goalie. He admitted to not being a great butterfly goalie. He couldn't do things everyone else could. But he could do things no one else could. His creativity, Jaques Caron's brilliance, and an all-time defense combined to make this technique evolve from idiosyncratic to iconic.
Martin Brodeur is one of the best --if not THE best -- stickhandling goalie of all time. His stats support this -- he is tied for first all-time in points (regular and post season combined) with an absurd 60 points. Among those 60 points were 3 goals -- only goalie to do such. The most iconic of which was obvious to anyone who knows who Marty is.
But outside the statsheet, Brodeur had a visible effect on every game. In an interview with NHL.com, guys like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, and Mike Ribeiro talk about accounting for him. Among other things they mention that they need to account for him springing loose his forwards, being the best defender on the team with his "dump control", and -- of course -- the trapezoid.
In John's assignment email to me he made specific mention of this
2/5 - CJ - Brodeur's Style - This should be about how Brodeur played in net. The stickhandling, his hybrid style, and the impact it left on other goalies & the game (see: that blasted trapezoid)
So other than the fact that John sounds like a Scooby-Doo villain with his adjective choice, what can we say about this. This is one of the first sentences in his legacy forever. The game is demonstrably different because executives decided that his stickhandling prevented teams from gaining the offensive zone too much. Imagine that. No seriously, imagine being so good at something, that grown men decide it gives your team an unfair advantage. USA Today included it in their top 10 reasons he is a legend.
Side Note: In that article you actually see the second rule made because of Marty. When someone his so good at clearing he puck so you don't gain the zone, you need to make darn sure you take advantage when it happens. However, screening wasn't enough sometimes because Marty didn't need to see a puck to save it. So Sean Avery like a ***(naughty word)** threw hands in his face to try to blind him.
In the interview with InGoal (linked above), Marty said he practiced puck-handling with his goalie stick as thought he was a forward. In practice, he would take about 50 shots at the crossbar. And that showed. In Tom Gulitti's great post about Marty's retirement, he interviewed a lot of former teammates, and Gomez was quoted saying the following:
"One time when we were out in Minnesota, he was taking slap shots with us," Gomez remembered. "(Goalie coach) Jacques Caron kept saying he's got the best shot and he kind of did. He was using his goalie skates and no pads or nothing and he could shoot. He was a good athlete."
Marty was probably the most athletic goalie in the NHL for the vast majority of the time he played in it. That helped him do things with the puck that no one else has done and -- since they made a rule against it -- no one ever will.
Marty's demeanor was oxymoronic. He was paradoxically the most passionate guy on the team, and also the calmest. People always talk about how you need to be a special kind of person to be a goalie. In a Boston Globe story, they were contrasting him with Manny Fernandez while discussing the retirement of #30:
But Fernandez was unlike Brodeur in one category. Fernandez was just about tortured by the pressure of the position. He could not understand how Brodeur could be so nonchalant about his job — waving to his kids, joking with the referees, and smiling after big saves.
Brodeur was carefree when he played. It showed in his performance: cool, smooth, relaxed.
Goalie is hockey’s most difficult position. When a goalie makes a mistake, it shows up on the scoreboard.
Brodeur made his job look easy. The best usually do.
To some, this might sound like Marty was almost apathetic. But, that couldn't be further from the truth. Marty was gregarious and had a fire that few goalies ever show. In the same block Gomez was quoted in above, he called Marty, Scott Stevens, and Bobby Holik the "hardest working guys in practice." The New York Times did a piece on how Marty stayed so good through his age-41 season and in it there is a quote from the man himself.
"You come in from a bad period and start breaking the sticks — I’m not going to say it never happened," he told me, smiling. "I know there is a lot of pressure on a goalie, a lot of responsibilities, but if you add on to yourself more than you need to, it makes it harder to deal with the adversity."
All there in one tidy quote. Marty had the fire in him that made him break sticks when things didn't go his way, but also the calmness to stay cool when he needed to. It's not a coincidence that Marty ended up with 140 more wins than anyone in NHL history and over 200 more than anyone not named Patrick Roy. He had a knack for being exactly as good as the Devils needed him to be on most any night.
Martin Brodeur was an enigmatic athlete. No combinations of his attributes make sense. He was the calmest guy on the ice, but the most passionate. He was the most disciplined goalie with the most erratic style. He played with a technique that should thrive on adrenaline on a team that saw the least shots in the league. He expended more energy than almost any other goalie with his style, yet somehow managed to also play more games as the biggest workhorse in NHL history.
Cory Schneider has taken the mantle from Brodeur in admirable fashion, garnering his first (of many) all-star appearances. And however good he turns out to be, neither he, nor any other goalie can be Martin Brodeur. He approached the game as though it was in his blood. He had an unnatural feel for the sport that led him to play it like never before.
Marty was one-of-a-kind goalie because of one inescapable fact:
He was a one-of-a-kind person.