‘Savour Every Moment’: Brodeur’s Olympic gold medal special treasure

Martin Brodeur’s trophy case is bursting at the seams with mementos from his incredible NHL career. But it’s a single medal he’s won outside of a league arena that Brodeur sees as perhaps his defining moment as a professional athlete, a win he enjoys like no other.

In February 2002, the Montreal native assisted Canada to a gold medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics, ending a nearly unthinkable half-century Olympics drought for his home country.

“There are many different highlights for me at the NHL level,” Brodeur said, given his remarkable competitive history. “I just feel like winning the gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002 kind of put me on the map. I know people had respect for my game before 2002, but they saw me differently when I came out of my New Jersey Devils bubble and won gold for our country to end our 50-year drought.

“Aside from my 1994 Calder Trophy (chosen for NHL Rookie of the Year), all of my individual awards came after I won the gold medal. I was always neck and neck with Dominik Hasek for the Vezina Trophy (chosen as the NHL’s best goaltender) but I didn’t win it until after the gold medal, then I won it four times.

“Salt Lake was my second Olympiad, 1998 my first (in Nagano, Japan). But 2002 really cemented me as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.

Brodeur’s NHL career is legendary and earned him induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, his first year of eligibility.

The 50-year-old won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 1995, 2000 and 2003. He is the NHL’s all-time leader in regular-season games played by a goalie (1,266), wins (691), shutouts (125). , saves (28,928), ice time (74,438:25 minutes) and even goals by a goalie (2).

Brodeur won the Vezina in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 and the Jennings Trophy five times between 1997 and 2010 for statistically outstanding achievement. The 1993-94 Calder-winner holds the NHL record for most 40-win seasons with eight, nine times leading the league with regular-season wins and seven times in the top-five for Hart Trophy picks as Most Valuable NHL players.

Brodeur was a spectator for Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, with Patrick Roy playing every minute in goal. The birthplace of hockey assembled a so-called dream team for the NHL’s high-profile debut on the Olympic stage, but Canada would shockingly go home empty-handed after defeating Finland 3-2 in the bronze medal game.

Four years later, Brodeur was back on his country’s roster, Team Canada CEO Wayne Gretzky and his management team tasked with improving Nagano’s hollow record. The Salt Lake City team would be led by Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn, with NHL goaltender Curtis Joseph moving to Canada’s No. 1 net position ahead of the tournament.

“I was afraid to go to Salt Lake City,” Brodeur recalled. “Nagano was a disappointing time for us, we didn’t even win a medal. Salt Lake was a chance for us to recover as a country. We prepared for that. Having Wayne as our GM was pretty cool, he was My roommate in 1998, now he was GM in 2002. Being able to play under him was pretty cool, that’s one of the things that stood out.”

The world was a different place as the Olympics approached, global tensions were high and security precautions increased dramatically in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States just five months earlier, 9/11 on everyone’s minds.

“We came into this environment, which was the biggest event on the world stage since 9/11, and there were a lot of unknowns about what we would face in Salt Lake,” Brodeur said. “Security measures at airports, travel around the venues … a lot of things outside of hockey were unknown. We tried to block out that noise and focus on what we needed to do.”

Brodeur, a nine-season NHL veteran with the Devils, recognized his situation and was determined to become the No. 2 player in Salt Lake City. By then he had won the Jennings twice, had some experience albeit no playing time on an Olympic ice rink, and had international experience at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and IIHF World Championship, winning the silver medal in each tournament.

“In 1998 I didn’t stand a chance, Patrick (Roy) played every second in Nagano,” he said. “Now Pat (Quinn) was the Salt Lake coach with his goalie (Curtis Joseph) on the team. That put me at a slight disadvantage from the start, Joseph played Game 1.”

Martin Brodeur celebrates Canada’s Salt Lake City gold medal win in the dying seconds of their 5-2 win over the United States.

Canada lost 5-2 to Sweden in the opening game, media and fans north of the border immediately criticized the team’s flat play, the 50-year drought sharply came back into focus.

The Edmonton Mercurys were Canada’s youngest Olympic champions, winning gold at the 1952 Oslo Olympics. It seemed unthinkable that the country’s top pros, who were crushed in Nagano, would now be skating in the quicksands of Utah — no matter that an Edmonton icemaker was secretly planting a Canadian $1 coin on the ice in central Salt Lake City buried as a lucky charm.

“No one on our team paid attention to the 50-year drought,” Brodeur said. “You assumed Canada was always there, but that wasn’t the case.”

In fact, the goalkeeper was totally focused on the tournament, the Olympic Village was a safe haven and a buffer from his country’s first or last expectations.

Martin Brodeur and his teammates Simon Gagne (left) and Scott Niedermayer end up celebrating Canada’s gold medal win at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

“It’s been quite a two-week period,” Brodeur said. “My wife was pregnant with our twins at the time, so there was a lot going on. With your family there, it was good to be sheltered in the Olympic Village and not have to worry about too much. I always call Team Canada next The NHL team as they treat you and take care of your family. Always first class. Hockey Canada took care of everyone for us so we weren’t distracted trying to win the gold.”

Brodeur longed to play on an Olympic net as the second member of his family; his father Denis had won a bronze medal in the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen squad, Canada’s representative.

“I spoke to ‘Gretz,'” Brodeur said of his conversation with Gretzky. “With the experience I had in Nagano, I told him, ‘I’m a team player, just give me a guarantee that I’ll play a game.’ I didn’t want to play the whole tournament if I didn’t deserve it, but I just wanted to put my foot on the ice so I could tell my dad that I played in the Olympics too.”

Martin Brodeur during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and his father Denis, who won a bronze medal as a goalscorer for Canada’s representatives at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Denis Brodeur, a veteran sports photographer, had been to Nagano but didn’t snap a single picture of his son in action. Like Martin in Salt Lake City, he would be hoping for a second chance.

That chance came in Game 2 when Brodeur received the call to face Germany. He secured a 3-2 win and would go the rest of the way into Canada’s net – a 3-3 draw in the preliminary round against reigning Olympic champions Czech Republic; a 2-1 quarter-final win over Finland; a 7-1 win over Belarus in the semifinals; and finally the dramatic 5-2 gold medal victory over the USA

Brodeur, then 29, recalls a league game save as one of the best of his career, when he stoned USA forward Brett Hull early in the third period while Canada held on to a 3-2 lead.

“The Americans had a power play, Phil Housley ran from the point to the boards to the hashmarks and threw a pass to Brett,” he recalled, the game burned into his memory. “I knew exactly where Brett was, he loved to hide behind the game. I threw my leg right on the goal line and it hit my toe. Maybe 30 seconds later we made it 4-2.”

Simon Gagne jumps into the arms of his roommate Martin Brodeur at the end of Canada’s 2002 Olympic win.

Simon Gagne jumped into Brodeur’s arms at the end of the game, a drought ended, a nation delirious over the result.

“Simon was my roommate in Salt Lake, a young guy (five days past the age of 22),” he said, laughing. “The first picture I took while celebrating was him jumping into my arms. He came off the bench first. He didn’t play as much as others, so he had more legs to reach me first.”

Brodeur had 1.80 conceding and a .917 save in Salt Lake City. He later represented Canada at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin (seventh place, Canada’s worst finish in Olympic ice hockey) and at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver (gold).

“It took me a while that night in Salt Lake to see my dad who was busy taking pictures everywhere,” Brodeur said of the chaos. “When I saw him I said, ‘I finally hit you!’ His 1956 bronze medal used to hang in our house I grew up in, his pride and joy for all the right reasons, I’ve seen it all my life, winning the gold medal gave me a bit of bragging rights , but he was proud. He couldn’t wait to get back to New Jersey. He brought his sweater and his 1956 medal and we took photos together. Great memories.”

Martin Brodeur and his father Denis with Denis’ 1956 Olympic sweater, a mask he wore late in his goalkeeping career and with their Olympic medals – Martin’s gold medal from Salt Lake City 2002 and Denis’ bronze medal from Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956.

Denis Brodeur died in 2013 at the age of 82 after photographing almost his son’s entire career. Martin treasures his father’s Olympic sweater and medal.

“There are many things that I’ve achieved in my life, but it’s something personal because I’ve become a player in everyone’s eyes and also because of the relationship I had with my father, which was the Olympics during my childhood have meant,” he said.

“To this day, 20 years later, people will thank me for the gold medal in Salt Lake. So many people sat there for two weeks and wanted us to win. Vancouver was the same. I got back to Toronto maybe two weeks after Salt Lake and I got a standing ovation playing the Maple Leafs in my New Jersey Devils jersey playing ‘CuJo’ (Joseph). It was amazing the recognition we all got for being part of this team.”

Salt Lake City’s gold, Brodeur says, mustn’t belittle his NHL accomplishments of leading dozens of great goaltenders to the top of many statistical categories.

“There are so many things I’ve achieved. I’ve been really lucky to play in really good teams,” he said. “But I feel like this is different on a personal level. Salt Lake City changed my career.”

Photos: Getty Images; Courtesy of Martin Brodeur

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