The arena had been warm, the dressing room was warmer, and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur—now dressed in a well-tailored suit—stood damp-faced before hot TV lights and a swarm of microphones. For 10 minutes following New Jersey’s solid Game 1 third round triumph over Pittsburgh, reporters fired questions that he batted away much as he bats away enemy shots.
Not that Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and company had given him much trouble. The Pens’ conservative playoff personality crawled right into the Devs’ spiderweb defense and only shook loose for 15 shots.
But Brodeur cautiously stated and restated, “They’re the best players in the world. They’ll find ways to be better.”
Whatever adjustments the Penguins make in this battle to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, Brodeur will likely be prepared—thanks to Jacques Caron.
Caron has been the Devils’ goalie coach since both he and Brodeur came to Jersey in 1993. Many teams have goaltending “consultants” (the Rangers have the NHL’s lone goaltending “analyst”; wonder if he’s a Freudian or a Jungian), but full-time goalie coaches are rare.
Caron’s presence has meant day-to-day contact, on-ice drills, and video study-sessions for Brodeur—an advantage that allows the tall, graying Caron to justifiably claim his prized student “keeps improving.”
Eight years ago, Brodeur relied on his reflexes, “with his feet wide, playing like Patrick Roy,” recalls Caron, alluding to the “butterfly” style popularized by Roy and favored by most young French Canadian goalies. “But he didn’t have too much mobility.”
For Caron, goaltending demands mobility. Hockey changed drastically in 1990 when the goal lines were moved to 11 feet from the end boards (it was originally a 10-foot gap), creating additional space behind the net for attackers to initiate offense.
“There’s a lot more to the game now than when I played,” says Caron. “There wasn’t as much passing. It was pass, then shoot. Very rarely, maybe on the power play, you’d see three or four passes. Now it’s back and forth, behind the net, to the side of the net. That’s why I feel mobility is very, very important.”
Caron played much of his 18-season pro career in the minors, most notably for the Springfield Indians in the ’60s and their legendary owner-coach Eddie Shore (yes, that Eddie Shore, the Scott Stevens of the ’20s and ’30s—the guy Paul Newman lauds as a paragon of “Old Time Hockey” in Slap Shot). The eccentric Shore taught correct skating stride by tying players’ feet a prescribed distance apart. He’d make them do rink maintenance work or sell concessions in his arena. He once taped Caron’s stick to his glove hand to make a point. But Shore also illuminated Caron’s future by ordering him to instruct goaltenders at an area high school.
“He felt I would improve faster if I taught what he was teaching me,” says Caron. “No one knew more about hockey. He taught me mobility drills and other things that I still teach Marty.”
Caron soon opened a summer goalie school in his hometown of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, developing a number of pro goalies during 28 years of operation. He has long understood that goalies are, in his words, “fragile,” and he provides both technical and emotional support—neither of which they got in the days of Old Time Hockey. Tales of drunken, disturbed, phobic, neurotic, isolated netminders fill the game’s lore.
Before this series, Caron and Brodeur reviewed game tapes between the flashy regular-season Penguins and the Devils, sharpening their grasp of Pittsburgh’s style. The night before each match, they’ll review the tape of the previous contest.
And Caron will give Brodeur the reassurance and confidence that goalies in Caron’s era never got. Which is why Marty can say, “He’s been like a father to me.”