Brodeur and Sawchuck – The Odd Couple

The Memorial Aud, Buffalo, December 7th, 2009.

The excitement in Doc Emery’s voice on Versus is palpable. “One minute left in the game… THIRTY SECONDS … TEN SECONDS … AND THE DEVILS WIN. MARTY BRODEUR HAS TIED TERRY SAWCHUCK’S ALL-TIME SHUTOUT RECORD FOR THE NHL AT 103.”

Even though you know it’s coming, that any day now Marty will break that record, it is still special when it happens. His teammates were as happy as he was, milling around, patting him on the back, butting their headgear to his mask. They had worked hard in the third period to keep the slate clean, holding off a good Buffalo team that was playing desperately to get back in the game. But not tonight, the Devils seem to say, not this night.  Final score: 3-0.

Martin Brodeur
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE)

In the interview after the game, Marty, in his usual humble manner, spread the praise to everyone: his current teammates; all the players who had played in those shutout games through his seventeen years as a Devil; to the organization and Lou Lamoriello for making it possible for him to excel by believing in him. This was the real Marty Brodeur, humble and grateful, a leader on the Devils, the ultimate team player. I am sure there was a longer list: Jacques Caron, his goalie coach; Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, his stalwart defensemen for many years; Vladislav Tretiak, the Soviet Superstar and his mentor back in Montreal when he first decided to make hockey his career.

Terry Sawchuck Held the Shutout Record for Decades

But what about the man whose record had stayed untouched for the past forty years? Who was Terry Sawchuck, how good was he and how did he compare to Brodeur?

Johnny Bower, a star goalie with the Toronto Maple Leafs and a contemporary of Sawchuck’s, had this to say: “ Terry Sawchuck is the greatest goaltender ever. When we picked him up in 1965 I told everybody we were going to win another Stanley Cup and we did in 1967.” Jimmy Skinner, his coach in Detroit: “ I saw a lot of the greats – Jacques Plante, Bill Durnan, Gump Worsley – but to my mind I haven’t seen anyone better than Sawchuck. Reflexes, angles and guts, he had it all. He was the best.”

Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower
Johnny Bower and fellow Leaf Terry Sawchuk.

Like Felix and Oscar in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, two more different personalities than these forty-year-apart record-holders could not be found.  Marty is an outgoing, affable type of guy who, with a smile, accommodates every kid who wants his autograph or his picture taken while Sawchuck was withdrawn and according to the men who played with him could be very moody and surly on the ice. Terry broodingly isolated himself most of the time while Brodeur, as a team leader, is always there for the younger guys with a word of encouragement or a pat on the shoulder.

Their playing styles however are very similar: stand-up goalies who rejected the butterfly style, quick hands and even quicker reflexes, always squared-up to the shooter and deceptive in what they give the shooter to shoot at. Both goalies were born in Canada, Sawchuck in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Marty in Montreal, Quebec.

Terry Sawchuck
Terry Sawchuck

Their starts were under completely different circumstances as well.  When Sawchuck was still a baby his brother Roger died from pneumonia. Terry’s older brother Mike, who was also a goalie, died suddenly at age seventeen of a heart attack. Terry, seven years younger started in organized hockey the following year and having inherited his brother’s equipment he decided to play goal.  He never looked back. Marty’s father, Denis, tended the twine for the Canadian Olympic team in 1956 in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy and won a bronze medal.  Years later, Marty could be seen as a kid happily playing street hockey outside his home in St. Leonard with his dad’s gear, even though the catching glove was for the wrong hand.

Other similarities exist. After Sawchuck played only seven games for the Red Wings in 1949, Jolly Jack Adams, the Wings G.M. traded star goalie Harry Lumley and gave him the starting job, despite the fact that Lumley had just won the Stanley Cup. In each of their second seasons they both played spectacular hockey, leading their respective teams to Stanley Cups.   Marty, with the Devils in 1995, won 16 of 20 games with a GAA of 1.67 and a save % of .927. Sawchuck with the Red Wings in 1951 won all eight games ( it was still the original six ) posting four shutouts, and allowing only five goals in the eight games.

As a kid growing up in Montreal, I had the pleasure of seeing Terry Sawchuck and the Red Wings play the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum.  As a young goalie, playing before the mask, for me it was like going to school on the best in the game. His crouch was the unique characteristic that defined his style and I spent hours of practice working on my own version.  He inspired many of us just as Marty Brodeur has shown the way to so many youngsters today.

Martin Brodeur
Bryce Salvador has been the Devils’ captain since the beginning of the 2012-13 season (Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)

Terry Sawchuck was a living legend who, tragically, died young at age forty, two years before the young Brodeur was born. Marty Brodeur has attained that same superstar / living legend status. He will go on to beat the shutout record and the games played record.  When he finally retires who knows what records he will leave behind for a new generation of netminders to aim at?  Perhaps THAT goalie has not been born yet.