Before he embarked on a 13-year career tending goal in the NHL, Martin Biron grew up as a talented young hockey player in Northern Quebec. Playing in the same minor hockey league system as his brother, Mathieu – who played 250 NHL games himself – Martin Biron thrived between the pipes for amateur teams near his home.
Biron went on to play 508 regular-season games in the NHL from 1995-2014, registering 230 wins, 28 shutouts, a 2.92 goals-against average, and a .910 save percentage while playing for the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New York Islanders.
For Biron – now a 43-year-old successful NHL broadcaster who makes his home with his family in Buffalo – the opportunities he received as a boy growing up in the game are priceless.
Biron took time to speak with Elite Level Hockey about his journey through the ranks and, eventually, through the NHL itself. Click here to read our Goalie Guild story, where Biron offers tips for young goalies.
How did your minor hockey career evolve?
Martin Biron: I grew up in a suburb north of Quebec City. The town was Lac Saint-Charles, and we did not have our own rink as a smaller town. We needed to affiliate with another organization. I started as a novice with one team, then and as an atom, and then as a peewee with a different team.
If you were really good, you made the elite team as a first-year peewee, but I didn’t make the double-A team until my second year of peewee. (Former NHLer) Marc Chouinard was on my team.
What impact did your parents have on you playing minor hockey?
MB: My parents were tough when it came to school, my mom especially. If we did well in school, they were happy and happy when we played well in other sports. My dad worked construction, and he used to work two or three extra shifts so you could afford to play extra time. My mom was the same way. They sacrificed a lot for my brother and I to make it as far as we did, so you always wanted to make them proud of you.
You had the chance to play in the prestigious Quebec International Peewee Tournament in 1991, when you were just 14. How did that experience shape your time as a goalie-on-the-rise?
MB: I remember we first played in that tournament on a Friday night, the very first Friday of the tournament, and there was 12,000 people in the arena. Marc Chouinard scored the game-winning goal against a team from Sherbrooke. It was a 1-0 final. I still can see it vividly. He scored on a shorthanded breakaway.
You remember specific moments when you’re 12, 13, 14, and it was such a high-profile tournament. When I was much younger, my mom would take my brother and I and we’d take our lunches to the arena and watch all the games, so it was really cool to be there as a player.
At that Quebec Peewee Tournament, did you feel any kind of pressure at such a young age?
MB: I felt there was pressure, just because I grew up with the tournament, and because there was 12,000 people in the stands. I used to play in front of 12 people, so I felt it was unlike any other tournament. Maybe it was different for a team coming from Calgary or Chicago, but I was a kid who was (at the Quebec Peewee Tournament) from seven, eight years old, trying to get a player to flip me a puck over the glass. Now I was the one on the other side, flipping pucks the other way to the kids in the seats. It was really awesome.
What were the other big accomplishments for you growing up in the Quebec amateur system?
MB: My biggest moment was as a second-year bantam. Beauport (Quebec) and Charlesbourg (Quebec) combined to make a team, and we won a provincial championship. That’s the first time I thought, “Hmmnnn, I’m pretty good at this.” Winning a provincial championship when I was 15, that gave me the sense I was decent. Before that, I played for the love of it, but it was then I felt I could really compete. There was no national tournament, so that was your Stanley Cup. That was in 1992-93. After that, you played midget triple-A, then you went to Junior.
Were there other elite young players that stick out in your mind from those early days?
MB: I remember playing in midget triple-A, and that’s when I played against (longtime NHL star) Daniel Briere in Gatineau. He was special. They used to say he was a good player in midget, but wouldn’t be good in junior because it was more physical. Then when he got to junior, they said the same thing about him, only this time they said he wouldn’t be good when he got to the pros because it was more physical. Every year he’d get that criticism, but every year he’d play and get his goals. He turned out to be an excellent player.