‘Hart Off The Ice’
By Sean Hartnett
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Playing at a consistently high level is difficult for any goaltender around the National Hockey League. It is especially demanding when something in their personal life can become more important than their duty to the team they represent.
No one would have blamed Martin Brodeur if he had chosen to take a significant leave of absence to be with his 81-year old father Denis, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Hockey players are made of tough stuff but they aren’t immune to these kind of things. In the face of public scrutiny, they must quietly deal with personal issues like anyone else but with thousands of eyes watching.
When I visited the away locker room at Madison Square Garden after the Devils’ 1-0 victory over the New York Rangers on February 7th, Brodeur stood by his locker and answered every question asked by a large media throng gathered around him.
Unbeknown to myself or my fellow hockey media brethren, Brodeur had learned of his father’s condition via a text message sent to him by his brother, Denis Jr. hours before the game. It was under these circumstances that Brodeur earned his first shutout of the season. By brushing aside every one of the Rangers’ 30 shots on goal that night and keeping his emotions in check in front of the media, Brodeur showed tremendous inner strength considering what was going on behind the scenes in his personal life.
Brodeur has always been a special net-minder, possibly the greatest of all-time but this might be his most inspiring accomplishment yet. He’s lifted the Stanley Cup three times and won Olympic gold twice with Canada to go along with numerous individual achievements, but to show such courage in the face of personal adversity speaks volumes about his character.
Since learning of his father’s diagnosis, Brodeur has posted a 4-1 record and a .956 save percentage over the past five games. He’s only conceded six goals against during these five games and has played a large role in the Devils’ rise to 4th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Thankfully, Denis Brodeur Sr. is now in recovery and in an upbeat mood according to Denis Brodeur Jr. who spoke to Dave Stubbs of The Montreal Gazette. “Dad’s cracking jokes and he’s asking for a Tim Hortons coffee. You know what? He’s okay,” he told The Gazette.
Even before his father’s health concerns, Brodeur was dealing with a different form of pressure. Going into the NHL All-Star break in late January, the Devils sat in 8th place in the East. Their playoff credentials were being doubted and many fingers were being pointed directly at Brodeur.
His pre-All-Star break statistics bared that of a mediocre goalie. At that point of the season, Brodeur’s record was 14-12-2 with a goals against average of 2.77. Reporters began to speculate if this would be Brodeur’s final NHL season and whether Johan Hedberg was better suited to take the majority of the Devils’ workload between the pipes.
Through the ordeal of his father’s prognosis, subsequent surgery and pressure generated by the media, Brodeur has fought against all adversity to raise his game.
Devils’ head coach Peter DeBoer spoke to Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “It just reinforces what the hockey world knows about this guy’s mental toughness and the ability to block out distractions and pressure. I mean, he’s the best of all time,” DeBoer told Gulitti on Monday.
Since returning from the All-Star break, Brodeur is 7-1 with a sparkling goals against average of 1.72. He’s shaken any doubts over his ability in a time of emotional turmoil and has propelled the Devils into an enviable position in the Eastern Conference.
The Devils are currently even on points with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and sit just above the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers with 72 points.
Devils fans, what do you make of Brodeur’s tremendous mental strength? Will his play inspire New Jersey to maintain a high position in the Eastern Conference? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.