Schott: Brodeur Brought Excellence To Devils

(Neil Miller /Sportsday Wire)

Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, the greatest player in their franchise history, had his number 30 retired on Tuesday night at Prudential Center.

Brodeur said of the ceremony and his speech, “Probably the first time I was nervous on that ice. It was fun though, it was well done, and glad it’s over,” he said with a laugh. “It was great, it was fun, the fans, it was something special to me.”

Witnessing this ceremony, it was hard not to think of what the New Jersey Devils were before he arrived.

The Devils struggled so much in the early years that Wayne Gretzky once called them a “Mickey Mouse organization.”

That began to change when Lou Lamoriello took over in 1987, and he was determined to build a model organization.

Lamoriello spoke at the ceremony, and heard a serenade of “Lou,” to which he said to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who spoke before him, “Commissioner that’s not the same reaction you got.”

Brodeur, during his speech, said to Lamoriello, “You made me a champion.”

When Brodeur was drafted in 1990, the Devils were still a team in its infancy that needed a nucleus and a standard of excellence.

Brodeur and the three players whose numbers were already retired, Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, and Scott Neidermayer, were the force that brought the team to prominence.

Daneyko was a lifetime Devil, drafted by the team in 1982, Niedermayer was drafted by the Devils in 1991, and Stevens was brought to New Jersey in a trade with St, Louis in September of 1991, and Brodeur was drafted in 1990 and made his debut in March 1982.

Brodeur said of the mindset Lamoriello gave them, “I think it’s like anything, being with the Devils, it’s in you. He’s not there anymore, I’m not part of the organization anymore, but it’s in you. He ingrained that into us, and all the players, Stevens will tell you, Dano (Daneyko) will tell you, he lives and breathes it, but with the players, you grew up in it and that was all that mattered was the team. That was just the message in the organization. at the New Jersey Devils, they continue having success, and we built something, the Montreal Canadiens built something, and they expect their players to follow suit and that’s what Lou developed here in New Jersey.”

Brodeur said of the character of that team, “We had a bunch of heart and soul on our team in the way we led.”

Their first real statement came when they took the Rangers to seven games in 1994. That was a loss that other teams may not have gotten over, but the gritty Devils came right back in 1995, made the Stanley Cup Finals and stunned the favored Detroit Red Wings in a sweep.

They followed that up by winning the Stanley Cup again in 2000, and came up short the following season in an attempt to repeat, losing to Colorado in seven games. After an early exit in 2002, they stormed back to win their third Cup in nine years by beating Anaheim in seven games.

That began a run of excellence that saw them win three Stanley Cups, five Eastern Conference championships, nine Atlantic Division titles, and the expectation that they could win it all every year. There is an argument to be made that they can be called a dynasty.

The natural comparison is to the Yankees dynasty that began around the same time in 1996, and had their own Core Four of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. Those teams won on pitching and grinding it out and were a contender every year for two decades.

The Devils won on defense, and the installation of the Neutral Zone Trap, which shut down big offenses like the Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, and Red Wings.

It is fitting that the first four retired numbers in team history are all linked to defense, because that is what one would think of when recounting the strengths of the Devils.

Brodeur said of that era, “Along the way, we created some great memories, we created a lot of great success, and look at the players that are up there. We’re a younger franchise, and this is the start of something, the players that have played with us and will play in the future that will get their number retired, because this is a great franchise, and one that will be successful.”

Devils forward Patrik Elias, who is out with a knee injury, was on hand, and received a tremendous ovation before he spoke during the ceremony.

Elias is the greatest offensive player in Devils history, as he has amassed 600 goals and 400 assists in his 15 years in New Jersey.

It is very likely that Elias’ number 26 will be the next number retired.

Brodeur said of Elias being next, “I think so, but that’s me, the organization will decide. Don’t tell him because he’s still playing, he’ll be mad at you talking about jersey retirement already. The reception that he got, at one point, I thought it was his own jersey retirement with the speech he had. He stole a couple of lines from my speech.”

Brodeur said of some of the goalies he faced during his career, “I played in a pretty good era as far as goaltending, with Patrick Roy, (Ed) Belfour, CuJo (Curtis Joseph), (John) Vanbiesbrouck, Dominic Hasek, I’m missing a couple here and there, but these guys were, it was a good challenge…I think we kind of fed against and with each other, and we knew when we faced each other, even though we really had nothing to do against one another, but it’s our team and you want to be the best for your team when you know the guy you’re playing against on the other side is very good, and I think we really raised our game to a different level when we faced each other.”

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