Lessons Learned from Martin Brodeur: It's Better to be Different

I recently finished watching Season One of Mr. Robot. It’s about a group of computer programmers out to even the score with the corporate world. One of the show’s leading actors, Rami Malek, recently won a 2016 Critic’s Choice Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series. During his acceptance speech Malek said, “It’s not just good to be different. It’s better to be different.”

I thought to myself, “What a powerful statement.” And, naturally, I thought about how it applies to goaltending. Fast forward to just last week, when the New Jersey Devils retired Martin Brodeur’s iconic #30 to the rafters in the Prudential Center. It was the grande finale to Brodeur’s career, which lasted 21 years and is highlighted by many accomplishments:

-Three Stanley Cup rings

-Two Olympic gold medals

-Four Vezina Trophy wins

-The most regular season wins of all time

-The most regular season and playoff shutouts

But, this blog isn’t about Brodeur’s great career. Or about how awesome the ceremonial face-off was with Brodeur, current Devils goalie Cory Schneider, and Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. It was pretty awesome, wasn’t it?

Instead, I want to talk about what is means to be different. When we typically think about goalies who had a “different” style, Dominik Hasek usually comes to mind. The flopping. The gumby-like joints. The helmet.

However, Brodeur played the complete opposite of almost any other Canadian goalie during the modern NHL era. Not to mention, one of Brodeur’s best qualities was how relaxed he was before and after games. He always looked like he was having more fun than anyone else on the ice.

Much of what we will remember about Brodeur’s style - less butterfly movements, patience on his skates, and a wide range of save selections - is attributed to the Devils’ longtime goalie coach, Jacques Caron.

But much like Hasek’s style, Brodeur’s brought a level of unpredictability to his game. If you were to ask any player today what type of goalie is the toughest to score against, I can almost guarantee all of them will say it’s the goalies whose style leaves them guessing. It’s easy to find holes in perfectly technical goalies who do the same thing all the time. But a goalie who leaves a player guessing? They’re tough to beat.

We might not see a goalie play the way Brodeur did in the NHL with the same level of consistency and success for many years. However, I do believe we will find a greater appreciation for goalies who read and react to the game at a high level, especially Bantam-Midget aged goalies. We will be more impressed with these goalies than those who simply look the part.

At that point, we will see more goalies showcase their natural ability and instincts, and be less critical of how perfectly they completed a movement or a save. Why? Because it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Results matter. And how do goalies get results? By constantly studying the game, analyzing their performance, and adjusting.

To get to that point, we have to be okay with what it means for goalies to be different. We have to realize it’s not about coaching to technical perfection. It’s about coaching to an individual’s strengths, addressing skills gaps, and creating an environment where high performance can be repeatable, where it can be consistent.

As Brodeur said in a Q&A with InGoal Magazine:

“The way I like to play is totally different, try to keep the players guessing all the time and not knowing exactly what I’m going to do every time. It’s just a like a shooter, some guys have different trends and skate or shoot different ways – why should all the goalies be the same?”

Bordeur’s right: Goalies shouldn’t all goalies be the same. They should be quick to adapt and keep shooters guessing. They should be hard to beat.

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