One of the things I’ve always loved about collecting sports cards was the photography used to create them.
My uncle was an award-winning sports photographer and taught me a lot about lighting and depth when shooting sports. I loved the poses on cards from when I began collecting as a five-year-old in 1969 through the 1980s. When Upper Deck and Pro Set came along, I loved the action.
Yes, I said Pro Set. That long defunct company was a big time game changer in the hobby when it came to photography.
When I was lucky enough to work in the hobby media and eventually worked as an executive in the sports card industry, it was really exciting to not only meet, but work with some of the greatest sports photographers in history. I already had a good working relationship with Bruce Bennett, who I consider the best hockey photographer who ever lived. Bruce shot all of our covers when I was the editor at Canadian Sports Collector before I moved south to work for Pinnacle. One of the products I developed at Pinnacle used the photography of Walter Iooss Jr., who was an absolute hero of mine through my childhood. I never got to meet him, which is a big regret, but a lot of his work is on the walls of my mancave.
And then there is Denis Brodeur, another longtime veteran whom I was lucky enough to work with and meet. He was the Montreal Canadiens’ photographer for decades – from my childhood well into my adult life. I had a number of conversations with him through the years. Some were chats, and a couple were interviews. Chats sometimes evolved into interviews and vice versa. I really didn’t care that he was Martin Brodeur’s dad. I think we only ever talked about that once.
To me, it didn’t matter. Denis Brodeur took the greatest photo in the history of hockey. That photo, taken on Sept. 28, 1972, turns 50 this week.
Actually, I will be honest, there are two iconic hockey photos. Both are signed and hanging up in my house. One of them is a framed, signed print of Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the winning goal in the 1969-70 Stanley Cup finals taken by Ray Lussier.
That photo, to me, is number two.
The number one hockey photo of all time was taken by Denis Brodeur at the Luzhniki Palace of Sport in Moscow. Paul Henderson has his arms up in the air and is being hugged by Team Canada teammate Yvan Cournoyer. Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak is lying on his back. Soviet defenseman Yuri Liapkin has a look that is somewhere on the grid between shock and absolute dismay.
Not only is this photo considered the greatest shot in hockey history, but it is widely considered the most famous sports photo in Canadian history. Brodeur had perfectly captured his shot moments after Henderson scored the series-winning goal with 34 seconds left to play, bringing an entire nation to its feet.
I had a paper route in the morning, and there was Henderson on the front page of the Sept. 29 newspaper, being hugged by Cournoyer. I brought that memory up with Brodeur, and how our entire elementary school – we were a rural school in the country and only had three classrooms – was let out of class to watch the game in the school gymnasium. Brodeur was quick to correct a misconception I had.
“That one wasn’t my photo,” Brodeur told me. “Frank Lennon took that one. He was the Toronto Star photographer. He was sitting beside me so the shots we took were almost identical. The only way to tell them apart was the angle of Yuri Liapkin’s stick across his face. They were taken just a fraction of a second apart.”
There were a handful of Canadian photographers in Moscow for the series, but among them, only Brodeur and Lennon got the shot of Henderson celebrating.
“Frank was shooting for the Toronto Star and his shots were syndicated to the Canadian Press,” he said. “I was there doing some freelance work for a few clients, and I was also shooting for a book on the series.”
Brodeur’s iconic photo has appeared on many cards over the past 30 years. While it was taken in 1972, it wasn’t until 1991 that the Henderson goal shot and Brodeur’s other photos from the 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series appeared on hockey cards.
Almost every autographed photo Henderson has signed at shows and appearances over the past half century has been Brodeur’s shot. The main difference in the photo is that in Lennon’s photo, Yuri Liakpin’s stick is near his face. In Brodeur’s shot, Liapkin’s stick is lower, and the look of disgust on his face makes a perfect juxtaposition to the absolute expression of joy on Henderson’s face.
Artistically, there has never been another hockey photo like it, before or since it was taken 50 years ago.
Many artists have done work based on Brodeur’s photo and those paintings have appeared in card sets. Prominent Canadian sports artist Daniel Perry did a series of lithographs based on Brodeur’s work. Perry’s artwork appeared in the 1997-98 Pinnacle Certified Hockey set, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of Henderson’s goal.
Brodeur has even appeared in three hockey card sets. He is in the 1951 and 1952 Bas du Fleuve regional sets when he played junior hockey in Quebec as a member of the Loups de Rivieres de Loup. In case you think the name is odd, a loup is a wolf, so translated the team name would be the Wolf River Wolves, which is an amazing team name. He also appeared in an Upper Deck Young Guns retro set when the actual young guns were locked out during the 2004-05 season. The photograph became the subject.
In 1991, Future Trends produced a hockey card set called Team Canada ’72. It was a 20th anniversary card set of the famed Canada-Soviet Summit Series, which currently is in the midst of its 50th anniversary. The 100-card set featured autographs of many Canadian stars from the series, as well as Vladislav Tretiak, who was the only Russian to sign for the set. Tretiak was easily accessible for autographs, as he was living in North America and employed as the Chicago Blackhawks goaltending coach.
While it was widely assumed that the photos in the set were Brodeur’s, and he was often asked about it, the photos used in that set were taken by Lennon.
Brodeur’s photos of the series and of the goal celebration have appeared in many other card sets since then. His NHL photography from the 1970 and 1980s was used extensively for legends and autograph cards. Upper Deck, Pinnacle, Pacific, In the Game and Leaf have all used Brodeur’s photos.
The pack out of the Future Trends set was standard – 10 cards per pack, 24 packs per box. Lennon’s Henderson photo of Henderson celebrating the series-winning goal appeared on the boxes and on the packs, as well as in the set.
The set featured 70 players from Canada and the former Soviet Union, as well as 30 memorable moments from the series. According to the press information we received from Future Trends at the time of release, each player who signed autographs for the set signed 750 cards.
The most interesting thing about this set was its distribution. The Bay, a national retail department store chain, had the exclusive distribution of the packs and boxes. While Walmart and convenience store chains carried sports cards, the Bay was not exactly hobby friendly. The American equivalent would be a popular Aaron Judge baseball card set available only at JC Penny.
Mars Bars Were A Factor
Before Brodeur left for Moscow, he had been warned of the communist Soviets and their strict rules. He was told me may not get home with his film.
“A friend gave me an idea,” he said. “I packed as many chocolate bars as I could into my suitcase. Whenever someone did something for me, I gave them chocolate. There was an usher at the arena who I became friendly with. I always gave him chocolate and he would escort me into a great spot to shoot. He put me beside Frank in Game 8, the final game of the series.”
Chocolate also helped him strike up a friendship with a photographer from the Soviet newspaper, Isvestia.
“I would give him my rolls of film and he would develop them for me,” Brodeur said. “He loved Ken Dryden, and he wanted to hear stories about him and how good he was with the Montreal Canadiens. He also wanted to learn, so he was always asking about photography techniques.”
There was no strobe lighting in Moscow as there was in the Canadian rinks. As a result, the quality of the photos in Moscow were not as good.
“I shot black and white film and the shots were grainy,” Brodeur said. “I was using a Nikon F. Then again, the great Bobby Orr photo was grainy as well. Back then, you just worked with the equipment you had available, and it was normal. For the Henderson celebration photo, I shot it at 1/500th of a second, and my aperture was wide open at 2.8, which was pretty standard at the time.”
The interesting part of the interview was that Brodeur turned it into a chat, and he started asking me some questions about my experience as a sports photographer. It was embarrassing. It was like Michael Jordan asking me how I could dunk a volleyball in high school. I told him I learned on a Pentax K-1000 and shot Ilford black and white film with a 135 mm lens, the same type of lens he shot the iconic Henderson photo with. I worked the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary as a photographer and then shot a lot of NHL games and Major League Baseball games. Eventually, I shot NFL games and a lot of my photos were used when I worked for Collector’s Edge and Pacific. I told him how exciting it was to see my work on a sports card.
He smiled and nodded his head in agreement.
“Did you do your own darkroom work?” he asked.
I did. I told him how I used the chemical HC-110 to develop film and I had a darkroom at work.
“That’s where you really learn photography,” he said. “When you are developing your own film and making prints and contact sheets, you really see where your weaknesses are, and how to use the available light.”
He paused for a moment.
“Did you ever use D-76”? he asked, turning again to darkroom chemicals.
“My uncle did,” I replied. “He shot a lot of Kodak T-Max film and pushed it to 3200, and he found D-76 was the best chemical for that film. When he shot hockey or high school basketball in the gym, he would push film to 3200 and the T-Max film was great for that.”
Brodeur turned the discussion back to the Henderson photo.
“I wish we had T-Max film in 1972,” he said. “When I look at the shots from that series, you can really see how grainy the shots are. When Kodak released T-Max, indoor sports photos were not as grainy.”
The grain in the photo has always been accepted. Hockey fans without photography experience would never know. The photo captured the moment. And at the time, the majority of Canadians saw the game live on black and white televisions.
“The odd thing about the photo is that I was using a motor drive,” Brodeur explained. “I was near the end of the roll. After 36 shots, the roll would automatically rewind and I would quickly reload. The goal celebration shots were the 37th and 38th on the roll. It’s the only roll of that type of film that ever went past 36 exposures. If that hadn’t have happened, it would have ruined the sequence. Until the film was developed, I really wasn’t sure if I got the shot or not.”
When the game and the celebration ended, there was a chauffeur waiting to take Brodeur and his Soviet photographer friend back to the Isvestia office and dark room. Within an hour, it was confirmed that he had taken what would become the most iconic photo in both hockey, and Canadian, history.
The negatives now belong to Getty images. But for a long time, including for the decades later when Brodeur was shooting photos for the various hockey card companies, he kept the Summit Series negatives safe.
“Whenever we went on trips or on family vacations, I always packed the negatives and brought them with us,” he said. “I was afraid of them being stolen, or of our house burning down. Wherever the Brodeur family went, the negatives went with us.”
The last time I talked to Denis Brodeur was in 2012. He mentioned to me that for all of the pictures he had taken of his son winning the Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medals, the Henderson photo, to him, still stood above the others.
When I saw him that last time, it was a chat, not an interview, but he said something I will never forget. He said that through all of those years of being connected with Paul Henderson’s goal, he had never met Henderson. I found that odd, because I had met both Brodeur and Henderson on several occasions. Many people I knew were among the countless people who knew both Brodeur and Henderson personally. He said he was still hoping to meet him and talk. Henderson had evened signed a large 16” x 20” print of the photo for Brodeur’s son, Martin.
Even though they were about 50 feet apart for the moment that defined both of their lives, their paths never crossed.
A year after I talked to him, Denis Brodeur sadly passed way.
It’s a shame that most of the hockey cards featuring that photo and several others from Brodeur’s were produced at the end of his life, and that there are many produced after his passing that he never got to see. Thankfully the negatives have all been digitized, so there is no worry of them being lost forever in a fire.
That fact alone would make Denis Brodeur rest in peace.