Fan’s statue will honor Brodeur, foundation of Devils’ glory years

If all goes according to plan, a sculptor named Jon Krawczyk will load a slightly larger-than-life bronze statue of a hockey player onto his truck at his home in Malibu, Calif., early in February, cover it tightly, and haul it more than 2,800 miles to Newark, New Jersey.

“I don’t want to put this in anybody else’s hands,” Krawczyk said.

The statue is of Martin Brodeur, the goaltender who won three Stanley Cup Finals and an NHL-record 691 games, a record 125 by shutout, before announcing his retirement last January. All three Cups and all but three victories and one shutout came in 21 seasons with the New Jersey Devils.

Brodeur, now the assistant general manager of the St. Louis Blues, will have his No. 30 retired in a ceremony on Feb. 9, before the Devils play the Edmonton Oilers at Prudential Center. The game, not surprisingly, is a sellout.

Brodeur, 43, will become the fourth Devils player to have his number raised to the rafters there, joining three defensemen from the team’s Cup runs in 1995, 2000 and 2003: Ken Daneyko (No. 3), Scott Stevens (No. 4) and Scott Niedermayer (No. 27).

The Devils won those Cups with a stout defense and a team-first concept, but Brodeur will be the first player from that era to have his own statue. Hugh Weber, the president of the Devils and Prudential Center, said that retiring Brodeur’s number “didn’t seem like enough.”

So the club hired Krawczyk over the summer to create a lifelike sculpture of Brodeur, the first statue of one of its championship players that the team has commissioned for its home. It will be unveiled at a special ceremony outside the arena on Feb. 8.

“When they brought it up, I was shocked,” Brodeur said in a telephone interview. “I never expected a statue like that, to be standing outside ... forever.”

Krawczyk, 45, is uniquely qualified for the job. His 22-foot, 6,000-pound stainless-steel abstract sculpture of an anonymous hockey player firing a slap shot has stood outside Prudential Center since 2009. Just as important, Krawczyk is an ardent Devils fan who grew up in Boonton Township, New Jersey, and attended Delbarton School, in nearby Morristown.

He watched the Devils as a child from Section 116, Row 10 at what was then Brendan Byrne Arena, the Devils’ old home in East Rutherford.

“The Devils were a way for my father and I to communicate,” Krawczyk said. “And Marty Brodeur was the big guy on campus — the No. 1 guy.”

After Krawczyk graduated from Connecticut College, he moved to California to pursue his art career.

When he heard an arena was being built in Newark, Krawczyk pitched the idea of a hockey player sculpture to Michael Gilfillan, a friend from Delbarton who was a part owner of the Devils at the time. The sculpture was largely a hit and has become a meeting place for fans.

Not long after Joshua Harris and David Blitzer took over the Devils in 2013, they wanted to salute the team’s glory days through a series of events. It became apparent to them that Brodeur had accomplished enough to warrant his own statue.

They contacted several artists before choosing Krawczyk.

“Part of the reason we picked Jon is because we wanted to try to represent New Jersey whenever we can,” Weber said. “The fact that he’s from New Jersey gave him a leg up.”

But the Devils also wanted advice from Brodeur as to what the statue would look like.

There are hockey prototypes: In 2010, the Boston Bruins unveiled a statue that depicted defenseman Bobby Orr flying horizontally with his arms stretched in front of him after scoring his Stanley Cup-clinching goal in 1970 — one of hockey’s most indelible images. In 2013, the Philadelphia Flyers unveiled a statue near their arena depicting goaltender Bernie Parent and the captain Bobby Clarke hoisting the Stanley Cup later in the ’70s.

After hiring Krawczyk, the Devils sent him to Brodeur’s St. Louis home a few months ago with 200 action photographs of Brodeur. They spread the photos on his dining-room table.

Something soon became apparent to both men: The goaltender almost always celebrated his victories, including his last game with the Devils on April 13, 2014, by raising his stick to the crowd, tilting his helmet back on his head and winking at his children in the seats.

“That was something I did over and over again in my career,” Brodeur said. “We thought that was more appealing.”

Laughing, Brodeur later said, “That’s something I did without even knowing I did it.”

And that settled it. Krawczyk had a working model called “The Salute.” He and Brodeur have stayed in touch mostly by email to go over specifics relating to the project, which Krawczyk said will be cast Jan. 10.

Most of Krawczyk’s work is abstract, he said, but in producing this sculpture he has used real pads, gloves and a sweater from Brodeur to help create what Krawczyk thinks will be a “dead-on” piece of art.

The Devils are also holding a contest in which winning fans can place Devils or Brodeur-related memorabilia inside the statue, which will be sealed, like a time capsule.

When asked how he thought he would feel at the unveiling, Brodeur said: “It’s hard to know now. I think the emotions are going to come through when I start remembering back.”

Krawczyk took the job knowing his work would stand as a testament to Brodeur’s contributions for years, or at least as long as the bronze lasts. “That’s good pressure,” Krawczyk said. “It makes you work a little harder and a little better.”