Joseph Germain Stanislas Denis Brodeur
Born: October 12, 1930 (Montréal)
Died: September 26, 2013 (Laval, Que.)
Denis Brodeur won an Olympic medal in hockey and worked for years as the official photographer for hockey’s Montreal Canadiens and baseball’s Montreal Expos, yet was better known in the final years of his life as the father of the winningest goalie in NHL history, Martin Brodeur.
The diminutive Denis Brodeur was a familiar figure at the Forum and the Bell Centre, as well as at Jarry Park and the Olympic Stadium. It was rare to see him without at least one camera dangling from straps around his neck. He took formal portraits and action shots, and was on hand in Moscow to capture the most famous goal in hockey history.
Brodeur was born in Montreal to Simone (née Reinhart) and René Brodeur. His first sporting love was baseball, which he began playing seriously at age 9. By his mid-20s, he was praised in the Val d’Or Star newspaper as “the best shortstop ever seen around our town.” He did not take up hockey as more than a recreation until age 15, when he filled in for a friend as goaltender. He played a season of junior B in the Laurentians at age 17 before joining the Victoriaville Tigers, whose star forward was a baby-faced Jean Beliveau.
Brodeur led his junior hockey circuit in wins (23) and goals-against average (2.34) with the Montreal Nationale in 1949-50. (A teammate was Bernie Geoffrion before he became known as Boom Boom.) Brodeur stood just 5-foot-5, weighing 165 pounds, a pipsqueak even by the standards of the day. But he was quick and a tireless workhorse, making him much in demand for teams needing extra goaltending help in the playoffs. He guarded the net for several senior teams in the following four seasons, donning the sweaters of the Saint John (N.B.) Beavers, Charlottetown Islanders, Moncton Hawks, Jonquiere Aces, Riviere-du-Loup Wolves and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
In 1954, the senior-A Dutchmen, representing Kitchener and Waterloo, Ont., bought the rights to the tiny netminder. Brodeur’s first game came against the Chatham Maroons, a 4-1 victory for the Dutchmen and an “impressive debut in the Dutchmen nets” for the new acquisition.
In the send-of-season playoffs, the Dutchmen defeated the Windsor Bulldogs to claim the Ontario Hockey Association crown. The Dutchmen then eliminated the Sault Ste. Marie (Ont.) Greyhounds and the Moncton (N.B.) Hawks before knocking off the Fort William (Ont.) Beavers to claim the Allan Cup as Canada’s top senior team. The champions were then pegged to represent Canada at the Olympic tournament to be held early in 1956.
In September, 1955, Brodeur joined the Cleveland Barons at training camp, where he was presented a cheque for $3,000 to turn pro. He went home contemplating the prospect of a big payday, though doing so would mean surrendering his amateur status and a spot on Canada’s Olympic roster. “I could not give up on the Olympics,” he told USA Today in 2006. “I sent the cheque back.”
The Olympic hockey tournament was held at an outdoor rink in the ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo. The Canadians were favoured to repeat the triumph four years earlier by the Edmonton Mercurys. The Dutchmen had two goalies with Brodeur sharing duties with Keith Woodall, of Elmira, Ont. The Quebecker got the nod for the first game, a 4-0 defeat of Germany. Woodall had little to do in a 23-0 shellacking of Austria. After Canada slipped past host Italy 3-1 with Brodeur in goal, the tournament favourites suffered a scare as Czechoslovakia twice led before falling 6-3. “The Canadian goalie was especially good,” the Czech coach said of Brodeur after the game.
The next opponent was the United States, represented by an unheralded squad of college students. The underdogs opened the scoring at 3:10 of the opening period when Johnny Mayasich, a 20-year-old college student from Minnesota, lofted a high shot from far out that Brodeur lost in the lights. The puck glanced off him and into the goal. Mayasich added two more goals as the Americans stunned all with a 4-1 upset victory.
After the game, several of the Canadian players were described as weeping unashamedly in the dressing room. Canadian coach Bobby Bauer called the opening goal a fluke. Explained the goalie: The puck “just seemed to roll up my shoulder.”
Fluke or not, Brodeur was not used again in the tournament, as Woodall shouldered the rest of the workload, another easy victory over Germany (10-0), a hard-fought win over Sweden (6-2), and a heartbreaking loss to the Soviet Union, by 2-0, as the Soviets claimed their first of many hockey golds. The Americans took silver, the Canadians bronze, widely viewed at home as a calamity.
Brodeur went 3-1 in the tournament with a shutout and a 2.00 goals-against average.
The goalie returned home to complete the junior-A season, before joining for the North Bay Trappers for two campaigns. He then began a professional career with the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League and the Charlotte Clippers of the Eastern Hockey League. He returned to Montreal, where he played senior hockey for a few more seasons, having become an early adopter of the goalie mask. He estimated having taken more than 100 stitches to his face before following Jacques Plante in using face protection.
Long interested in photography, he found work on magazines owned by Pierre Péladeau, who sometimes called him to duty late at night. “J’ai bessoin de photos, cliss,” the boss would say, using a mild oath. Brodeur began shooting for the tabloid Montreal-Matín in 1962. He was a freelancer, hoping for a few dollars for action shots snapped with primitive equipment, all he could afford. In time, he purchased better cameras and more lenses, even placing strobe lights at the Forum to capture the glories of fast-paced hockey action.
The nightly hustle for piece-work sales eventually led to steadier employ as an official photographer with the Canadiens, as well as the Montreal Expos. He was promised the baseball job before the expansion team had signed a single player, only to be told later that a mistake had been made and the club had hired another photographer. Brodeur scoped out the fellow at spring training, decided he was too inexperienced for the work, and was on the spot to take the job when management fired the rival.
Brodeur traveled behind the forbidden Iron Curtain with Team Canada for the Summit Series in 1972. With the clock winding down in the eighth and final game, Brodeur fired off a series of 17 shots of Paul Henderson banging away in front of the Soviet goal. He captured an image of diminutive Yvan Cournoyer embracing an ecstatic Henderson, the great Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak helpless on his back like an upturned turtle. (Standing beside Brodeur at the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow was Frank Lennon of the Toronto Star, whose almost identical image of the celebration is the one that appeared over four columns of the Star’s front page the next day. It has been reproduced on stamps and coins.) Brodeur sold at auction the Nikon with which he took the images.
The Henderson goal was his proudest moment as a photographer, he told Dave Stubbs of the Gazette, trumping even shots of his son hoisting the Stanley Cup, or winning the Olympic gold medal the elder Brodeur and his teammates found so elusive. Martin fils had the words “ Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956” and “Salt Lake City 2002” painted on his goalie mask.
The son also appears in a Brodeur photo on the cover of the 1996 book, “Goalies: Guardians of the Net.” Written by Daniel Daignault, the book features more than 500 Brodeur photographs.
Brodeur was diagnosed with brain tumours and died after undergoing several surgeries. In the midst of his treatment, he was distraught to learn of the death from brain cancer of Gary Carter, his favourite player among the Expos and one who befriended Martin and the other Brodeur sons.
Brodeur leaves Mireille Bérubé, whom he married in Riviere-du-Loup in 1956; four sons; and, two daughters. A son, Claude Brodeur, pitched two seasons of minor-league ball in the Montreal Expos system.
It was estimated he had shot more than one million images in his long career. In 2006, the NHL purchased his archive of 100,000 photos for $350,000 US. These were packed up in boxes before being placed in a refrigerated truck to be shipped to New York. The lensman found it difficult to surrender his life’s work. “It was worst when I looked at each box hermetically sealed with tape,” he told Bertrand Raymond of the Journal de Montreal. “I knew I would never again see my photos.”
Denis Brodeur spotted NHL’s Clarence Campbell talking to Maurice (Rocket) Richard at the Forum. Mme. Richard is not amused.