By Sean Hartnett
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On Thursday, Denis Brodeur Sr. passed away at the age of 82, following a long battle with cancer.
Denis lived a rich, rewarding life that most hockey dads would desire.
His son Martin famously went on to become the winningest goaltender in National Hockey League history. At 41, Martin holds nearly every regular season and playoff record imaginable, and has captured three Stanley Cup rings and two Olympic gold medals.
Three generations of the Brodeur family have stood proudly between the pipes, protecting the net with distinction.
It all began when Denis was trying out for the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League in 1955 after plying his trade in the Quebec and Ontario amateur leagues.
At 24, Denis was presented with a difficult decision. The Barons cut him a $3,000 check. Had he cashed it, Denis would have turned pro and perhaps began a path toward the NHL. Instead, Denis declined the opportunity to play for the Barons, preserving his Olympic eligibility.
The pull of representing Canada was too strong. Denis went on to guide Canada to the bronze medal at the 1956 Olympic Games held in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy.
He would eventually sign for the Buffalo Bisons ahead of the 1957-58 AHL season. While his career did not flourish to the point of reaching the NHL, Denis notably became the second goalie in professional hockey history to wear a mask.
Legendary Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante became the first NHL goalie to don a mask in competitive play on November 1, 1959, after New York Rangers star Andy Bathgate’s shot broke Plante’s nose at Madison Square Garden.
Shortly after, Denis visited the Canadiens’ dressing room to ask Plante where he purchased the mask. Denis was wearing a similar mask a week later. The mask may have saved him from serious injury as he took a slap shot to the forehead approximately 10 games later. Over the course of his career, Denis received 118 stitches before donning the mask. It would be his final season, retiring in 1959 after one season with the Charlotte Clippers of the Eastern Hockey League.
After hanging up his pads, Denis’ life became interwoven with great moments in hockey history as a gifted photographer.
He served as the Canadiens’ official photographer throughout many of their glorious, championship-laden decades. In 1996 Denis published “Goalies – Guardians of the Net,” a collection of over 500 photos of famous goaltenders.
Most famously, Denis captured the image of Canadian hockey icon Paul Henderson celebrating the winning goal of the 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series.
He also served as the Montreal Expos’ official team photographer. Denis would drive Martin, Claude and Denis Jr. to spring training in Florida throughout their youth as wife, Mireille was uncomfortable flying.
In 2006, Denis sold his archive of 110,000 photos to the NHL for $350,000.
“Denis Brodeur’s images brought the action, the drama and the passion of the game sharply into focus for generations of fans around the world,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Some of the greatest teams and greatest players in hockey history — including his son, Martin — are preserved forever by his grand body of work. Memorialized, as well, is Denis’ deep love of what he did and the sport he covered.”
The Montreal Canadiens remembered Denis through a video montage before Thursday’s preseason game against the Ottawa Senators.
At Prudential Center, the Devils honored Denis with a moment of silence before Thursday’s 4-1 preseason victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Martin Brodeur was not with the team as he had flown to Montreal following the Devils’ Thursday morning skate.
Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello released a statement on behalf of the team on Tuesday:
“The entire New Jersey Devils organization is tremendously saddened by the loss of Denis Brodeur, Sr.” Lamoriello said. “The Brodeurs have been part of the Devils’ family for over 23 years. Denis proudly dedicated his life, on and off the ice, to the game of hockey and for that he will be fondly remembered. Our thoughts and prayers, right now, are with Martin and his family. We ask that you respect the privacy of Martin and his family at this time.”
Grandson Anthony Brodeur was drafted by the Devils with the 208th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Like father Martin and grandfather Denis before him, Anthony plays goaltender. He spent a portion of 2013 training camp with the Devils, before returning to the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The Devils made a special draft day trade to acquire the pick from the Los Angeles Kings. Proud dad Martin was given the honor of announcing the selection of his son in front of Devils fans at Prudential Center.
Anthony shared his grief over Twitter following the loss of Denis Sr.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper left a tribute to Denis on his official French language Twitter account.
Translated to English: “My sympathies to the family of Denis Brodeur, the celebrated photographer who helped so many Canadians discover hockey.”
Denis is survived by his wife, Mireille, sons Martin, Denis Jr. and Claude, and daughters Line and Sylvie. His was grandfather to several grandchildren: Anthony, William, Jeremy, Anabelle, Maxime, Simon, Sarah, Benoit, Anik, Julie and Philippe.
William and Jeremy currently play for famed hockey academy Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota. William is a forward, while Jeremy plays goalie — following the footsteps of brother Anthony, who graduated from the boarding school in 2013.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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