Building on Buffalo roots

By Adam Duke

Sports Reporter

For professional athletes, the retirement process is often difficult, as many don’t know what to do with their lives following the end of their playing careers.

For former National Hockey League goaltender Martin Biron, two job opportunities have entered the realm of possibility in terms of future plans: working in the media and working as a coach.

“I figured if I could get those two roads together for the longest time and then make a decision as to what I want to do more, then I’ll do it,” said Biron. “Those roads are still very close right now.”

Biron began playing hockey in Quebec when he was a child. He discussed memories of playing on the backyard ice rink his father set up and watching the Quebec Nordiques in his youth. He became a goalie after asking his father to shoot pucks at him while standing in net. Biron began playing organized hockey around the age of six in the Tyke division and became a full-time goalie by the end of his time in the minors. The flashiness and style of the netminders he grew up watching was also an inspiration for his interest in goaltending.

“That’s what I was drawn into, the equipment, the colors,” said Biron. “In the 80s, that’s when guys started adding colored pads instead of the old brown pads, painted masks instead of the generic white face-covering mask. [It became a] much more inviting kind of position for young kids.”

After playing two years of junior hockey, Biron was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, where he made his NHL debut at the age of 18. He became the starter in Buffalo after the departure of Dominik Hašek in 2001. After the rise of Ryan Miller in the Sabres organization a few years later, Biron was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals.

After three years with the Flyers, Biron signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders. He then spent two and a half seasons as a backup with the New York Rangers, retiring from the NHL after being faced with the decision between retirement and playing in the American Hockey League. He played professional hockey for 18 years.

Despite his retirement from the NHL, Biron has not left the sport of hockey. He has worked as an analyst for The Sports Network, the NHL Network, Madison Square Garden Networks, and has been featured as a recurring guest on WGR 550 SportsRadio.

WGR host Howard Simon has cited Biron as one of his favorite athletes to have covered and now, to work with.

“I think he’s done a great job on his post hockey career.  I’ve seen some of his work on NHL Network and he’s made a seamless transition into the broadcasting business,” said Simon. “He’s a natural for radio and TV.  He has the certain presence you need to have for both mediums.”

The Director of Sports Sales at the station suggested bringing in Biron as a weekly guest to give analysis on the Sabres and the NHL. Simon said that it has worked out well, as Biron has a vast knowledge of the game of hockey and has a great personality. He also mentioned that the Buffalo-based station receives great feedback after having the former Sabre on air.

Having done work with TSN, the NHL Network and the Rangers’ website before retirement, Biron built a reputation of being a reliable asset for the media. One thing Biron said helped him ease into retirement was being a backup for a few years, as opposed to being in the prime of his career.

“I knew right away what I wanted to move forward to,” Biron said. “I wanted to do something in the game, especially in the media, because I love that aspect of it. So it was an easy transition.”

In addition to working on television and the radio, Biron works as the director of goaltending at the Academy of Hockey at Buffalo’s HARBORCENTER. Biron’s job at the Academy entails the development of young goaltenders through coaching and specialized drills and programs.

He recalled being asked about the position by Kevyn Adams, the vice president and director of the Academy of Hockey, saying that the pair agreed that timing was perfect and that it would be a good fit. He enjoys being able to learn more about the position, even post-retirement. The inability to continue to grow as a goaltender in the NHL was part of the reason Biron decided it was time to retire.

“It’s funny, the pressure of the hockey world when you play, because you’re making millions of dollars and you have millions of fans watching the game,” said Biron. “You feel like you need to give them everything that you’ve got. You almost forget that it’s just a game.”

He noted how struggles of NHL life, such as missing an afternoon nap, sound ridiculous now that he has had time to step back from the game and analyze his life from an outsider’s standpoint. He also said that he realizes how things like the fine line between a .930 save percentage and a .910 save percentage drives goalies to play in more of a military style and how stats like that can dictate the intensity with which some athletes play.

“Some people are very military style and some people are a little bit more loose, you’ve got to find that balance. I don’t think I found that balance. I was very much 100 percent into the game,” said Biron. “Maybe that’s why I was in the league for that long, for 18 years, because I did it that way. Maybe I would’ve played for 22 years if I didn’t. I don’t know what [Jaromír] Jágr does, but that seems to work for him, right?”

Jágr, who has laced up the skates for eight NHL teams, has been playing professional hockey for nearly 27 years.

Biron compared waiting for a call from a potential employer after his retirement to waiting for a call from a potential NHL team at the beginning of his career. He emphasized the fact that most athletes struggle to find a job after retirement and that part of the reason it is so difficult to for them to find employment is that it is awkward to ask for a job in the industry.

The biggest challenge Biron himself has faced is having to set his own schedule. In the NHL, the schedule is uniform every year, with the offseason leading into the draft and then camp, practices and the regular season.  After retirement, it is up to the individual to schedule their year. For Biron, he has managed to fit in mostly everything he has wanted to do and is pleased that he has time to spend with his family.

Part of Biron’s satisfaction comes from the fact that he can remain in contact with his family throughout the day. During his playing career, there were days where did not speak to anyone outside the team, as he was too busy preparing for a game those nights. Now, he is able to text or Snapchat his kids from work. He is also able to spend time more with them at home, having less travel time throughout the year.

“It’s good because then I get to go to more of the horse shows and go to see my girls when they practice with their horses,” Biron said. “I get to be more of an active part in my son’s hockey team and his football team and his baseball team, and be there as a coach or a helper. I can’t be a head coach because my schedule is so all over the place, but I can help, I can be around.”

The city of Buffalo was also a factor in Biron’s raising of his children. It is where he began his NHL career and where he spent most of his adulthood. He lived in Quebec until he was 19, when he moved to Western New York and on Feb. 21, he officially became a U.S. citizen.

“I married a Buffalo girl, so we always stayed here. In the summers, everybody would pack up their houses and go back home. For me, it was like, ‘I’m home,’” said Biron. “I really liked the area because it resembles a lot of what Quebec City was.”

Other than the fact that the 408-year-old Canadian city is a touristic attraction, the suburbs of the two cities are alike to Biron, with hard-working and family-oriented people that will open their arms to everybody. He also commented on the similarities of the city’s lifestyles.

“The lifestyle of this area resembles a lot of the lifestyle I grew up with,” he said. “The sports: hockey, football, even Minor League Baseball, it’s all part of it. So to me, that was always a good fit.”

Though his son Jacob attended four different schools in five years during Biron’s stints in Buffalo, Philadelphia and New York, the family of six always returned to Buffalo in the summertime before moving back permanently. Biron also mentioned that living in Buffalo has allowed his kids to establish their roots and build their own circles of friends.

In terms of prominence in the community, Biron has remained a staple in the Buffalo area. On Feb. 1, Biron was the subject of WGR’s celebrity roast. Past subjects have been Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame wide receiver Andre Reed, The Buffalo News sports columnist Jerry Sullivan and former Sabres defenseman and broadcaster Mike Robitaille.

Since his retirement, Biron has been seeking any opportunity he can find to continue learning about the sport and helping others do the same.

“I am a person that doesn’t like to say ‘no’ very much, so I try to take it all in, I try to satisfy everybody,” said Biron. “The first two years, I was taking everything that came by. I would go from September until June and do everything. In the summer, I’d be here, I’d be in Canada, and I’d do everything. Now, I’ve got a better balance of what I want to do, so it’s taken three, four years still, and I’m still not where I want to be, but gradually and slowly, it’s getting to the right spot.”

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