Sabres of Yesterday | Conversation with Martin Biron - Part Two
In the second half our our discussion, we touched on Biron’s most memorable moments, his transition into broadcasting, and much more.
After his time with the Buffalo Sabres, Martin Biron’s career took him to a few different NHL cities, before arriving back in Western New York as a broadcaster. In part two of our conversation, we touched on what he experienced as a player after being traded in 2007, his post-retirement shift into media, and a few other memorable topics from his career.
(In case you missed part one of the interview, you can find it here.)
Anthony Sciandra: After 11 years with the organization, you were traded to the Flyers at the 2007 deadline. What was that transition like?
Martin Biron: “Umm, it wasn’t hard. I’ll be honest with you, this team I went to with the Flyers was a team that was in transition again. Kind of like the transitions we had gone through with the Sabres. So, when I got there, they had already made the trade for Braydon Coburn. He was new, Scottie Upshall was new. They had called up a lot of guys from the Philadelphia Phantoms and had moved older players out of the organization.”
“So, it felt like we had all come in at the same time, right? So I knew Simon Gagner from growing up in the same city in Quebec City, so I knew him, he was a player there. Geoff Sanderson was there at the time. I had played with him with the Sabres, so there were a few guys there. So then the next year, they made a transaction for Scott Hartnell, Kimo Timmonen, Danny Briere came in, Jason Smith came in.”
“It was really a new team. It wasn’t like I was the only one in the locker room that was new and everybody had been there for years. It was literally nine or ten new players that first season, that 07-08 season, so it wasn’t that difficult. It was a new coach that was there from the year before. John Stevens had gone in halfway through the season before so, it didn’t feel out of place.”
“I think that’s why we had success right away, because we were all eager and hungry for success and we all felt like maybe the situation we were in before… Like me, I wanted to be a number-one goalie, so I wanted to be able to show the league and the world that I could do it. I think a lot of the other guys felt like that to so, we all had a common goal and it worked out because we went to the conference finals that year.”
AS: You spent time with four different franchises in your career. In that 15-year stretch, who was the toughest shooter you ever faced, both in practice and in games?
MB: “Ooh… In game, for me it was Jaromir Jagr. I think I gave up more goals to Jagr… or maybe more goals to Daniel Alfredsson, but I think Alfredsson was because we used to play Ottawa so many times during the year, but Jaromir Jagr, for me, was the toughest. He was so skilled and had such patience, and such reach with his stick and hung onto pucks until the very last second. As a goalie, especially in my early days, sometimes you commit too early, and Jagr makes you look pretty much, silly.”
“My very first NHL game at 18, Jagr got two, and I still haven’t moved from any of his shots because I don’t think I was really ready for what was coming at me. So, I think Jaromir Jagr was one of the hardest that I ever had to play against.”
“Another guy… and I’ll say maybe more in practice, but another guy that I had the most trouble ever stopping was Danny Briere. I go back to playing midget as a 15-year-old and Danny just completely made me look silly. He literally scored goals every game we played against each other. It was midget, triple-a, juniors, American League, NHL – he scored a goal in every game we played against each other.”
“The last game we played against him in Phoenix, we won 1-0, and Danny hit like three posts, and he had so many chances. Well, I think two weeks later he was traded to Buffalo, so I was like, “I finally figured you out and now you’re gonna be abusing me in practice?””
“Because he did. Literally he knew exactly what to do to get under my skin and to score goals. He would say, “Marty can I just have 20 shots this morning? I need my confidence back.””
“Literally, he would get his confidence just from having 20 shots on me so, I would say he was the hardest at practice but it was also stemming from all the games we had played against each other.”
AS: What was your most memorable/special moment in a Sabres uniform?
MB: “(Sighs), well, there’s a lot. You know, I think my very first NHL game was a memorable moment. I think my very first NHL preseason action… We played at The Aud against the St. Louis Blues and Dominik Hasek started the game and half-way into the game we switched. So I went in the net, and Dom had just made literally like, five saves with his feet up in the air, rolling around the ice. If you think of Dominik Hasek in 1995, he was in his prime. He was MVP, right?”
“So, he made two, three, four saves where he was rolling around with no stick, he’s throwing his gloves everywhere. So now, it’s halfway through the second period, Teddy Nolan says, “Marty, you’re going in.””
“So I go in, and the crowd is like, standing on their feet in a preseason game, applauding Dominik Hasek, and I’m thinking – “What the hell am I doing here?””
“One of the very first shots I got, was Chris Pronger with St. Louis at the time… I think he was with St. Louis at the time… I’m almost 100-percent sure it was Chris Pronger who took a shot from center-ice and almost went through my legs. Like, I squeezed me legs together and it dribbled through my knees, and was just behind me when I put my glove on it.”
“We ended up winning that game in overtime. Donald Audette scored an overtime goal to win it. My parents drove down from Quebec City for that game with some friends. They were at the game, so it was unique. I mean, you just turned 18, you know, a month before. I was an August birthday, so in August I turned 18, and then in September I’m playing preseason NHL action.”
“I know there’s been a lot of memorable moments. The brawl game is one, my first NHL win is one, my first NHL game is one, but I think one that I remember more vividly is that preseason game against St. Louis. It was pretty special.”
AS: Just this week the Sabres put out a twitter poll to fans asking who was their most beloved Sabre of all time. You won that poll in a landslide. You’ve always had a connection with the fans in Buffalo. You obviously elected to remain here after your retirement from hockey. What made that connection so special for you?
MB: “I believe that Buffalo was very much like where I grew up in Quebec City. It’s a blue-collar town that is proud of where they’re from, that welcomes strangers and out-of-towners with open arms and that’s what I grew up in when I was in Quebec City.”
“You know, my parents were hard-working parents. My dad worked extra hours and overtime so that he could afford my goalie equipment. We never took vacations, because our vacation money was spent on hockey tournaments, and baseball tournaments in the summer. So, I came to Buffalo and I felt like that same mentality was here, and it was a hard-working town. They work hard for what they have, it’s hard-earned money, and they’re proud of where they’re from.”
“So, I really felt like the fit was perfect for me. I always related with people. I’m not a shy guy, you know, I used to live right by Glen Oaks Golf Course. I would just walk onto the course and just be like “Hey, I’m here by myself, ready to play.””
“They’d pair me with three guys, I’d have a really fun five-and-a-half hours of golf with three people I never met before. You know, I’d go to the grocery store, and I’d go for cereal and milk, and I’d stay there for 45 minutes because I’d have conversations with the cashier and with everybody in the place.”
“It’s just the way that I was. It’s the way that my parents were. My parents were… you know, the door was always open. My friends would walk into the house. They wouldn’t knock on the door, they wouldn’t ring the doorbell, they’d just walk in. After a hockey game, after a baseball game, my dad and the other assistant coaches would come back to my house, they’d have a beer, they’d talk about the game, and they’d talk about the plans for the next day at practice. So, that’s kind of like, what I grew up in, and I felt like this was exactly the same thing here.”
“I saw the poll. A lot of people commented on it on Twitter, and tagged me on it… I voted for Rico, because I thought Rick Martin, to be honest with you, if Rico was still here and if people can remember… You know, the generation that’s on social media maybe don’t remember Rick Martin but I got to hang out with Rico. I used to go to Kennedy’s Cove in Clarence to order food, and Rico would be there all the time, and we would sit at the bar and tell stories and I would listen to him just light up, right?”
“He was to me, the best and biggest personality that I think the Sabres ever had. He was the life of every event he went to, but I definitely felt somewhat proud that people think I’m a good personality and it’s in a positive way.”
AS: On that point, your personality transitioned perfectly to the broadcast booth. Was that something you always wanted to do after your playing career came to an end?
MB: “I did. I’ll be honest with you, even when I was in juniors, I remember going to the World Juniors for Team Canada. I was the backup for Marc Denis and RDS, the television station out of Montreal wanted me to do player interviews. They wanted me to go in and have some fun with the guys, and do some segments with them to be able to play during the games. So, I did a lot of that.”
“When I went to the Rangers… My first year with the Rangers, I was hurt. I hurt my collarbone at the end of the season so, in the playoffs I couldn’t practice, I couldn’t do anything, so they would let me just walk the streets of New York, or walk the streets of Washington, because the first round was against the Caps’, I’d do some segments for the internet, for the website.”
“I did some playoff coverage with TSN when I was with the Flyers actually. Like, my first year with the Flyers when I got traded there, we missed the playoffs so, I was asked to come and do some playoff coverage. They wanted to invite a few players, so I really enjoyed doing it, and I kept in touch with a lot of the people that had asked me.”
“As I got older, it’s funny because I was 35 years old in New York. Some of the younger guys were 19 and 20, and I found myself having better conversations with the Sam Rosen, Larry Brooks, Joe Micheletti, Dave Maloney, and all those guys than I did with the younger guys because the age difference, and the generation difference was… different.”
“So I talked to those guys a lot and really enjoyed it. I got a chance to have a lot of conversations with guys like John Davidson, and for me, John is the go-to role model. A guy that played goalie and was good. He was a student of the game, turned broadcaster and did his homework, was so smart on the air, and now is basically the president of the New York Rangers.”
“So, that was definitely the route I wanted to go.”