Brodeur plays forward in 20th anniversary game
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The New Jersey Devils celebrated the 20th anniversary of the franchise’s first of three Stanley Cup champions in grand fashion last weekend, first with a reunion game at the AmeriHealth Pavilion on Saturday, then with a pre-game ceremony before the current Devils faced the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
In the reunion game, all the buzz was about the return of legendary goalkeeper Martin Brodeur, who came back to his old stomping grounds for the first time since the end of last season, when the franchise parted ways with their franchise net minder.
However, there was an air of disappointment Saturday when the starting lineups were announced and former standout defenseman Bruce Driver, the current president of the team’s alumni association that organized the event, came out wearing the goaltending uniform.
All 3,000 or so in attendance for the reunion game wondered where Brodeur was. But in an interesting twist, Brodeur played the first two periods of the reunion game as a center, only to take his familiar place between the pipes for the third period – a period where the NHL’s all-time leader in victories and shutouts surrendered five goals.
As a center, Brodeur did manage to tally a goal and add an assist, but the White team that he played on dropped a 10-6 decision.
As the game began, Brodeur donned his regular No. 30 sweater, but it looked as if this sweater was so oversized that it was intended for Brodeur’s much older and bigger brother, and donned a helmet and a regular-sized stick.
“I know Bruce wanted to play a little in net,” Brodeur said. “I’m sure that they all expected to see me in goal.”
Driver said that the decision was made earlier in the week, but kept a secret right up until game time.
“I talked to Marty about a week ago or so and he said that he was looking forward to coming in,” said Driver, who helps to organize a host of charity fundraising events involving former Devils players throughout the course of the hockey season. “We kept it quiet on our end. At first, we sort of laughed about it, but then I realized he was serious. I knew that he likes to play out from time to time. I told him that we would do whatever he wanted to do. We all know how important Marty is to this organization.”
Most of the members of that Stanley Cup championship team – as well as coaches Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson (the head coach of the Devils’ second Stanley Cup title in 2000), and Jacques Caron – were in attendance.
Hall of Famers Scott Stevens (a current Devils assistant) and Scott Niedermayer (an assistant with the Anaheim Ducks) were on the ice. The 41-year-old Niedermayer looked as if he could still play in the NHL today, the way he was skating up and down the ice.
Brodeur didn’t retire right away, managing to sign a contract with the St. Louis Blues in January, but he then retired after only nine games, winning three, and remained on with the club as a senior adviser.
Brodeur said that he’s comfortable now with being a retired player and with his role as part of the Blues’ organization.
“I’m enjoying myself more now as a member of the Blues organization than I was when I was playing,” Brodeur said. “I tested it and made the decision to retire easier. I get to travel, get to watch practice and observe. It’s all good. I’m having a blast doing what I do. It’s really exciting right now to be part of the Blues’ organization. It’s a great setting for me to learn right now.”
Brodeur retired with 1,266 games played, 691 career victories and 125 shutouts, all of which are NHL records. He was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL four times and a nine-time NHL All-Star.
Brodeur said that he was looking forward to returning to New Jersey and seeing all of his old teammates.
“It was a great experience,” Brodeur said. “I have been skating since November. Some of these guys hadn’t skated in a very long time. I think I liked playing forward today more than I did being in goal. I didn’t expect anything differently coming back here. It’s always neat.”
Driver said that it was great to get most of that 1995 Stanley Cup championship team together for the weekend. After the game, they were being treated to a dinner together.
“It was a lot of fun and it was everything I thought it would be,” Driver said. “It was a great day.”
Defenseman Ken Daneyko, who spent the longest tenure with the franchise and currently serves as a television analyst, agreed.
“Once everyone got their gear on and got back out there, everything comes right back,” said Daneyko, one of three members of that first Stanley Cup champion to have his number retired (Stevens and Niedermayer are the others). “You could see how special the day was to the guys who were out there. You don’t expect those things until you get out there. There’s always going to be a special bond with this team. There were a lot of characters on and off the ice. We were a crazy crew who got away with a few things.”
Lou Lamoriello, the current team president and general manager who is also serving as the interim head coach, said that he will always cherish the 1995 Stanley Cup champs.
“You have to understand the amount of time we spent together, ate together, stayed in the same hotels together,” Lamoriello said. “The greatest memory I have is when the clock ticked down to the last few seconds, the expression on the faces of the players, the coaches, the fans. I just took it all in. And the building (at that time, the Continental Airlines Arena) shook. I mean, it literally shook. That’s the joy you have and it’s something you never forget. No one gave us a chance to beat Detroit and we came home and no one could beat us. That was a great feeling.”
“On the ice and off the ice, we were like a real family,” Lemaire said. “They jelled together and became a championship team.”
And they were all together once again, standing the test of time some two decades later, still that close-knit bunch, having fun and watching the best goalkeeper in the history of the sport act like Wayne Gretzky.