Photographer Denis Brodeur with a framed sequence of photos he shot in Moscow on Sept. 28, 1972 of Team Canada’s Paul Henderson scoring the game- and series-winning goal in the historic Canada-USSR Summit Series.
Photograph by: Dave Stubbs
MONTREAL - The most famous of the more than one million photographs Denis Brodeur shot during his lifetime was taken 41 years ago this Saturday, in Moscow’s Luzhniki Palace of Sports.
The grainy black-and-white image is one of only two taken of the most famous instant in Canadian hockey history, Brodeur’s shot a mirror-image of a frame taken by a colleague at his shoulder.
This Brodeur shot, and a great many more of his images, will be in focus again in the days to come with the photography legend’s passing Thursday in a Montreal hospital.
Brodeur, the father of New Jersey Devils goaltending superstar Martin Brodeur, was 82, having been in delicate health for 19 months with brain tumours that required several operations.
Brodeur’s iconic 1972 shot freezes Team Canada’s Paul Henderson being bear-hugged by teammate Yvan Cournoyer after having scored what would be the winning goal in the monumental Summit Series between Canada and the U.S.S.R.
A year ago, on the 40th anniversary of the heart-stopping moment, Brodeur told me it was the greatest photo he ever took.
“I could never beat this,” he said. “I’ve taken photos of Martin with the Stanley Cup and his (2002 and 2010) Olympic gold medals. But I’ll never do better than my picture of Henderson.”
You will see the celebration photo either from the camera of Brodeur, who was freelancing in Moscow for a variety of clients and a book project, or that of the late Toronto Star photographer Frank Lennon, both men firing their 35mm Kodak-film Nikons at the same instant.
Brodeur suspected his image, one of some 3,000 he took during the Summit Series trip to Moscow for Games 5-8, was something special.
But it would be hours before he knew for sure, his film developed at the newspaper office of Isvestia by a technician he had befriended with sweets resourcefully packed in Canada as calling cards and bribes.
It was the ultimate test of faith, the Soviets bitter at the loss.
“I always looked for somebody who smiled,” Brodeur told me of cleverly navigating his dour hosts. “I got friendly with an usher, gave him some chocolate and he gave me good spots to shoot.”
Brodeur and I spoke for hours over the past 16 years, and I’m convinced we didn’t scratch the surface of his cache of stories.
The compact ball of energy was one of this country’s top senior amateur goalers, an Allan Cup champion during his playing days and a bronze medallist on the country’s 1956 Olympic Winter Games team in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, as a member of the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen.
Brodeur père had knocked around junior, senior and minor-pro hockey, even playing a season in Victoriaville with Jean Béliveau. And then he took up photography at Montreal’s Immaculate Conception Sports Centre, peddling his publicity shots to newspapers around town.
Jacques Beauchamp, the larger-than-life sports editor of Montréal-Matin, offered him a job freelancing, work complicated by the fact Brodeur didn’t have a pass to get into the Forum and that he was shooting crime for some of the city’s spicy tabloids.
Canadiens GM Frank Selke finally gave Brodeur access, his first photos shot from behind the low corner glass as he balanced his boxy Roliflex with one hand and lifted his flash above the glass with the other.
He would shoot a single frame, wait maybe 10 minutes for his dying flash to recycle, and hope that by the end of the game he’d have an image he could sell Beauchamp for $3.
Brodeur eventually spent $1,500 on a system of strobe flashes to bolt into the Forum ceiling. His photos, 2¼-inch negatives pulled from his brick-weight Hasselblad, took on an almost three-dimensional effect, with a richness by far surpassing news photographers of the day.
“You could drop a penny from the roof of the Forum and I could freeze it halfway down,” he said proudly.
One Hasselblad shot, seven seconds for the strobes to recycle, then another shot, for the entire game.
For decades, Brodeur would shoot the Canadiens for newspapers and for the team, pint-sized son Martin often helping out as a lighting assistant.
He snapped Expos mug shots at spring training and souped film in motel bathtubs on the road because his wife, Mireille, the mother of the couple’s three sons and two daughters, wasn’t fussy about flying.
Brodeur shot baseball action, too, and was crushed the night before his first surgery in February 2012 when one of his favourites in the sport, Expos star Gary Carter, died of a brain tumour.
The photographer worked at his own pace; he was a fixture at every major sporting event in and around Montreal — the Olympics, golf, pro-wrestling and more — and forever in his later years was right behind the Bell Centre glass for every Devils visit, in Martin’s corner for two periods, to shoot his son.
Brodeur published many books of his own work, and his work appeared in hundreds of others.
On Dec. 21, 2009, Martin Brodeur eclipsed the NHL’s shutout record of 103 held by the late Terry Sawchuk, a standard thought to be untouchable.
Maybe five years earlier, Denis Brodeur had stumbled upon a large, dusty, framed Sawchuk photo in a Montreal store. He bought it, and when Martin earned historic shutout No. 104, Denis reframed the Sawchuk photo with one of his own pictures of Martin beside it, with engraved plaques No. 103 and No. 104 beneath the two images, as a gift for his son.
“That’s the pride of my family,” Martin told me when he learned of the present.
Four months after his first surgery, with Martin Brodeur playing in the Devils’ 2012 Stanley Cup final against Los Angeles, Denis and a friend drove to New Jersey.
There, for Game 2, he gave Martin the maple leaf-emblazoned wool sweater he wore in 1956 on an Olympic rink and the fibreglass mask he wore at the end of his career. The crude protection was moulded by Bill Burchmore, who crafted Jacques Plante’s first NHL mask.
Four months earlier, days before his father’s surgery, Martin had flown into Montreal to give Denis the game puck marking the Devils goalie’s NHL-leading 117th career shutout, his 140th including playoffs, earned just hours after he had learned of his father’s cancer.
It is the only one of 145 shutout pucks that is not in Martin Brodeur’s trophy case, and one that now will have profound emotional meaning for the future Hall of Famer when he sadly adds it to his collection.
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