goaltender Martin Biron
never will forget the days when he packed his hockey bag and made his way to the nearby Reggie Lemelin Arena in Charlesbourg, Quebec, for a friendly pickup game of hockey.
To have a chance to play in the arena named after one of his hockey heroes always was special for Biron. Today, however, his days are even better as he spends most of his time with Lemelin, who is in his 13th season as goalie coach for the Flyers.
``I just loved to watch hockey, but had a particular interest in the Bruins, the Canadiens and the Quebec Nordiques in the 1980s,’’ Biron told NHL.com. ``Reggie was such a big part of how goalies played the game back then. I remember him wearing those big pads and he grew up only five minutes from my hometown (in Lac-St-Charles, Quebec). Looking back, I suppose it’s pretty funny now knowing I played at the Reggie Lemelin Arena. We have a lot of things in common and can share a lot of stories.’’
It wasn’t soon after the 30-year-old Biron was traded from Buffalo to the Flyers on Feb. 27, 2007, that he and Lemelin forged a friendship.
``When I got here last year, I understood my game and that helped, because Reggie knew what I needed to improve upon to become even more successful,’’ Biron said.
Lemelin, who won 236 games during a 15-year NHL career (1978-79 through 1992-93) as a goalie with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames
and Boston Bruins
, saw great potential in Biron.
``That’s why we signed him last year,’’ Lemelin told NHL.com. ``Marty’s a guy who’s been around for a while and we just pulled it all together and made some adjustments to his game. But since he already was well-schooled, it was more like giving him the confidence and instilling in him that he was our guy. He needed to know that he was our No. 1 goalie and that we wanted him to take it as far as he could.’’
Instilling that confidence wasn’t too hard a problem since Biron had waited patiently his entire career to become a starter. He played second fiddle to Dominik Hasek
and Ryan Miller
during most of his nine seasons in Buffalo before his move to Philadelphia.
``You knew he wanted to prove not only to others, but himself that he could do it,’’ Lemelin said. ``That was very important to him.’’
Lemelin, renowned for his positive outlook in the dressing room in his heyday, admitted goaltending is only as difficult as you make it out to be.
``You just need to enjoy the process, and the process to me is just playing the game and trying to improve every day,’’ Lemelin said. ``Along the way there will be some bumps and failures, but it’s those who bounce back and learn from their mistakes that can elevate their game and become an even better player. He’s obviously proving himself in these playoffs and, because of that, making a huge difference for our hockey club.’’
Goaltending, according to the 53-year-old Lemelin, isn’t just about stopping the puck.
``It’s an art learning how to play goal at this level,’’ he said. ``Playing goal involves dealing with many pressures, including the length of the season and being able to put it all together when it counts the most. How you deal with teammates and the media in the locker room when you’re exposed and under the microscope in the playoffs is important. It takes time to learn that stuff.’’
Dealing with the rigors of a full season was one area Biron took seriously entering the 2007-08 campaign. He played 62 games, the second-highest total of his career, and went 30-20-9 with a 2.59 goals-against average. It’s the most games since he played in 72 in 2001-02.
``We talked a lot about how this year would be different since I needed to pace myself and my game was kind of working it’s way to where I wanted it to be,’’ Biron said. ``Some parts were good and some not so good, but over the last month of the season, we found a good comfort zone on where my level needed to be. I think Reggie understands my style and we sat down and talked candidly on a number of occasions and that made me feel so at ease.’’
In his first run as a starting playoff netminder, Biron simply has been remarkable. His .917 save percentage and 2.60 GAA don’t fully show just how valuable he’s been. Biron is 4-1 over his last five playoff games and has made 30-plus saves in six straight.
``The communication between Reggie and I has been a lot easier,’’ Biron said. ``I remember during the morning skate of Game 1 in Washington when he felt like I was opening up my positioning, my shoulder, and he didn’t say anything and (later) said, ‘Maybe I should have said something to you in the morning, but I didn’t want to get in your way.’ I think after the Washington series we got into the Montreal series and he was seeing some things maybe slip away a little bit in Game 1 and 2 of the series that we needed to tighten up and he wasn’t afraid to just come out and let me know right away.
``Reggie told me I had to watch certain parts of my positioning again, the way the shoulders were square to the puck. So I think (with) those little adjustments we get to know each other even more in those high-intensity, emotional times. Those little adjustments definitely make my game a little bit better.’’
Biron certainly has benefited from the fact Lemelin is a stickler for the little nuisances of the game.
``I like to establish little rules and keep working at it,’’ Lemelin said. ``This is the way I like to work my guys and, along the way, remind them what they’re doing right or wrong. It’s getting the details down and perfecting all the little phases of the game that are most important.’’
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.