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So many things have changed about hockey over the years that is sometimes easier to talk about the things that never will change. First and foremost on that list is that there is no substitute for great goaltending.
By anyone’s definition, Martin Brodeur was one of the game all-time great goaltenders. His departure from New Jersey and retirement this week after a short playing stint from the New Jersey Devils was the end of an era in hockey.
He was a once-in-a-lifetime player who was a model of consistency on the ice.
Marty was the cornerstone of the Devils being a perennial Stanley Cup contender for most of the latter part of my active officiating career. To this day, when I’m watching a hockey game and I watch goaltenders, I often use Brodeur as the measuring stick. I have nothing but the highest respect for him as far as both his ability and longevity go.
Long before Brodeur played his first NHL game, I knew his late father, Denis. I worked a lot of games at the Montreal Forum and I used to see Denis, who was a photographer. He would occasionally drop by the officials’ room and give me a picture. We always said hello when we saw each other and chatted for awhile.
He was a friendly, down-to-earth guy whom I looked forward to seeing every time I saw a game in Montreal come up on my schedule. Much of the joy of being in hockey comes off the ice in getting to know the people who work in and near the arenas: the security guards, the off-ice officials, the photographers, etc.
Denis Brodeur was a perfect example. He was one hell of a good photographer, too. He had a special knack for capturing the drama and personality of the game.
On the ice, I had a good relationship with a lot of the goaltenders around the NHL. My relationship with Martin Brodeur was genuinely friendly and conversational for many years. We had some laughs and he always seemed amused by my attempts to speak French to him.
Marty liked me. But that all changed one night when I was refereeing the opening night game in New Jersey between the Devils and the Rangers.
Noted hockey pest Matthew Barnaby was playing for the Rangers. In the first period, Barnaby stuck his backside in Brodeur’s crease. Marty two-handed him with a heavy slash.
I gave Brodeur a match penalty and threw him out of the game.
Afterwards, he came up to me after the game and said, “Paul, don’t ever speak to me again. I’m never going to talk to you again.”
Meanwhile, Lou Lamoriello came over and said to me, “Stewy, holy hell, he was just clearing the crease.”
I said, “Yeah, but he two-handed him. I realize it’s Barnaby, but it is what it is. If I was playing and Marty hacked me like that, I would have turned around and beat the hell out of him.”
For the rest of my career, Martin Brodeur refused to talk to me when he saw me. That’s fine. That doesn’t bother me. I still respect the hell out of his career and consider it an honor to have been on the ice with one of the best ever to play the toughest position in hockey.
I’ve heard that Marty has long since gotten over our little tiff and has said I made the right call on that long-ago night. We’d probably have a good laugh about it nowadays. That’s the way this business is, and I’d love to get that chance to share a few smiles again.
If not, so be it. Martin Brodeur would still be one of greats in my mind no matter what. Congratulations, Marty, and take my word for it: Your next career in this game is going to be a new chapter in your life. May it bring you as much success as you had as a player.
************ Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a hockey column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.