Martin Brodeur’s Puck Handling Legacy (+ Tips)
The New Jersey Devils retired Martin Brodeur’s No.30 on Tuesday, part of a four-day celebration of their retired star that also included the unveiling of an 11-foot statue of a younger Brodeur waving to the crowd with his mask pulled back up on his head and a stick raised in the air.
It is a fitting tribute and a great way to show off a smiling Brodeur to the New Jersey fans that loved him, but when it comes to his impact on goaltending a more appropriate pose might have been Brodeur with his stick on the ice and the puck on it, poised to negate an opposing forecheck and help jump start the Devils’ breakout.
Brodeur redefined the expectations and possibilities for goaltenders when it came to playing the puck by building his passing prowess into the Devils’ system. For all the arguments about how much Brodeur benefitted from the stingy system in front of him, it’s sometimes too easy to overlook how important his puck handling was to that stifling defensive structure.
Ron Hextall may have been the first goalie to start firing the puck down the ice himself – and the source of inspiration for Brodeur himself – and other goalies may have been able to shoot it further and harder by the time he retired, but there’s little doubt Brodeur’s abilities changed the game for the next generation of goaltenders, and how teams integrated them into their systems.
In addition to topping the all-time NHL points list for regular season and playoffs with 60 points, Brodeur is the only goalie to score two regular season goals and three overall when you add in his playoff goal. He is the only goaltender to score a game-winner, and perhaps more indicative of his overall impact, when the NHL introduced the trapezoid behind the net for the 2005-06 season to limit where goaltenders could play the puck, many referred to it as “the Brodeur rule.”
Brodeur says his success playing the puck started with after father Denis Brodeur, who passed away on Sept. 26, 2013 at age 82, came home from photographing a Montreal Canadiens game.
“When I woke up before going to school my dad came in and said ‘son, I can’t believe what I saw last night’ and I didn’t see the game so I didn’t know what he was talking about, but Ron Hextall was playing and he said ‘this guy is like a third defenseman,’” Brodeur told InGoal Magazine. “That stuck in my mind and next thing you know I watched a game and saw him play and I was amazed and I thought, ‘you know what, that’s what I want to do, I want to put that in my game.’ And so I started working at it.”
That hard work paved the way for Brodeur’s success, and remains a great example of how young goalies can work on improving their own puck handling.
In addition to practicing his shot off the ice, Brodeur never missed a chance to shoot pucks in practice.
“I was 14 or 15 years old when I started to work at it,” Brodeur said. “I just remember when I was midget AAA we had hockey and school together so we had a class of hockey and I would just go into the gym and shoot those big heavy orange pucks for half an hour just to get stronger. The key is you’ve got to play with the puck, you’ve got to practice, and you have to love what you do.”
For Brodeur that meant not wasting any time when the drills were at the other end in practice. He used that time to work on his puck handling.
“The key to it is simply shooting pucks,” Brodeur said “Every time I have a chance I’m going to make a pass to one of my players in practice. Every time I have a chance I’m going to clear the puck just to see how far I’m going to be able to shoot it. And when they’re doing drills on the other side and I don’t feel like taking shots, I go and I take maybe 50 pucks and I’m going to aim at the cross bar, or aim just over the net, and you know I’ll shoot on my backhand, on my forehand, or from behind the net I’ll get someone to skate board to board at the red line and I’ll try to hit his stick.”
Brodeur hit his teammate’s sticks more often than the opponents in games too, but a big part of the secret of his success was understanding that spectacular passes were often not the best way to help his team out of their end smoothly. When Mike McKenna, who spent two of his 11 pro seasons in the Devils organization, wrote an article for InGoal Magazine sharing advice on playing the puck, one of the key points was how Brodeur didn’t always look for a 60-foot breakout pass, instead relying on smart, subtle fakes, angle changes and soft chips to elude forecheckers and find teammates.
“Hextall revolutionized the position with his ability to shoot great distances at a high altitude: never before had a goalie cleared the zone by physically shooting the puck over the heads of oncoming forecheckers,” McKenna wrote. “But everything changed in with Marty. He could do more than stop the puck and occasionally clear the zone. His intelligence and awareness allowed him to make plays. Passes, chips, clears, bumps, delays; Marty could do it all. And most importantly, his team took immediate notice and allowed him room to do so. Before long, Brodeur truly was the Devils third defenseman on the ice, working seamlessly with teammates to initiate the breakout.”
You can read all of McKenna’s advice on puck handling by clicking here.