When Richard Brodeur was establishing himself as the sole reason why the Vancouver Canucks made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 1982, his teammates had no idea of the lifelong passion he was harbouring.
Perhaps one or two close friends may have been told, in a quiet moment over a libation on the road, but generally speaking none of his teammates had the slightest idea the club’s No. 1 goalie loved painting from a very young age, and would one day become one of the more successful painters in the country.
Specializing in scenes largely of outdoor rinks, combed from his memories of growing up in Quebec with kids frolicking, unorganized and unencumbered by a care in the world, Brodeur has established himself as one of the top portrayers of Canadiana and has become sufficiently established to begin getting into landscapes, another interest. He’s rubbed shoulders with the likes of Canadian artist Claude Picher, who looked at Brodeur’s work when he asked for help, and told him: “You’ve got all the talent you’ll ever need. Just do it, just go ahead and paint.”
“In art class at school the teacher used to tell me, ‘Richard, you’re very good at this,’ and I always enjoyed it,” says Brodeur, who was also immersed in hockey at a time when a desire to express himself this way wouldn’t have been understood nearly as well as it would today.
“When I got into junior, and went to Cornwall, the teacher there suggested I come in alone in the morning, when he could give me some special attention.”
Brodeur took it from there, painting at home, but never letting it be known while he was becoming “King Richard” and a Canucks legend. At the time, he hadn’t the slightest idea the paintings would sell as well as they do now at the Birthplace of B.C. Gallery in Fort Langley, the exclusive distributors of his work.
“He sells extremely well,” says Brenda Alberts, who co-owns the gallery where Brodeur will appear during the Cranberry Festival next Saturday. “His series of childhood memories are collectibles and his landscapes are also going well too. He so captures the childhood memories of so many people and of course he’s so friendly, a real people person who loves to meet his customers.”
To this day, many of Brodeur’s old teammates have no idea the amount of money his paintings fetch, and how well known he’s become for them.
“I never thought they’d sell but I seem to have touched a chord in people who see them and think of their youth in the way many of us do,” says Brodeur, who rarely gets out to Canucks games any more, from his home in North Vancouver. “There’s something special in people’s hearts and minds when they think back to those days and these ‘kids’ paintings,’ as I call them now, are very accepted. I’m grateful for that because it’s something I enjoy a lot.”
Brodeur now accepts commissions for clients who envision certain scenes, hockey sweaters, or particular rinks from across the country, and the demand is significant. Needless to say, this keeps him very much a celebrity in this town, his willingness to sign and dedicate his paintings, while chatting with customers, further endearing him to his new fans.
“When I was playing hockey I never mentioned it to the guys because it was such a macho environment in those days, not really the atmosphere where this sort of interest came up,” says Brodeur. “It was pretty much all business but I’ve been painting since I was about 15 or 16 years old. It’s gone very well really, beyond my dreams.”
His play during the ’82 Cup run was beyond a dream as well, the little goalie fashioning one of the best playoffs in goaltending history, albeit in a losing cause.
How good? Neil Smith — the former New York Rangers GM who was a scout with the New York Islanders in 1982 — said this before the Islanders and Canucks matched up in the final: “I don’t know what to tell Bill (Isles GM Torrey) and Al (head coach Arbour) about Brodeur. I have no idea what his weaknesses might be. In the warmup he never stops anything, and in the games nobody ever scores.”
In the semifinal series against Chicago Brodeur was literally pelted with pucks with Denis Savard — in his prime, twisting and weaving effortlessly through the Canucks defence to get scoring chances or set up linemates — in the three games at the old Chicago Stadium. Brodeur easily rebuked 20 great scoring chances a night. It had to be seen to be believed how a guy with seemingly relatively little athletic ability could play the position so well. He was unforgettable to any Canucks fan who saw those games.
Now, through his second line of work and his lifelong passion, he’s certain to be genuinely unforgettable to another sort of fan.