National Hockey League rookies often get to play against their childhood heroes. Tonight, though, Buffalo Sabres goalie Martin Biron could go up against his childhood "villain" for the first time.
Biron could get the call tonight to face goalie Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche when the two teams meet in Marine Midland Arena (7:35, Empire, 104.1 FM). If the goaltending matchup does take place, it almost would be like two hockey generations meeting. When Biron was growing up in the '80s and early '90s in Quebec, Roy was a star goalie for the Montreal Canadiens who helped his team win two Stanley Cups.
"I was a (Quebec) Nordiques fan, so I always kind of hated him," Biron said with a laugh.
As far as Biron was concerned, Roy was on the wrong side of the intense rivalry that existed between the Nordiques and Canadiens until the Quebec franchise moved to Colorado in 1995. Biron was willing to "admit" he had a grudging respect as a youngster for Roy.
"I had favorite players and a favorite team, and I always backed the Nordiques. But I always took him (Roy) as a role model," he said. "He played Triple A midget when he was 16, I played Triple A midget when I was 16. I modeled his path to the NHL a little bit."
The province of Quebec has produced several fine young goalies in the past few years, including Biron and Roberto Luongo of the New York Islanders. Roy is getting some of the credit for that. The theory is athletic young players were attracted to the position by players such as Roy.
"Every time you get great role models, you have that," Biron said. "A lot of kids in Quebec are trying to make it as a goaltender. Russians are supposed to be fast and shifty, and you have the (Sergei) Fedorov and (Pavel) Bure model. I'm sure Maxim (Afinogenov of the Sabres),
when he was growing up, looked at those guys and said that's the way I want to be.
"In Quebec, you look at (New Jersey's Martin) Brodeur, you look at (Vancouver's Felix) Potvin, you look at Roy, and you say that's the way I want to be. They have such an impact on everybody. That's one of many reasons why there are so many good goaltenders coming out of the Quebec league."
Quebec's run of good goalies represents a change from the stereotypes of the past. Quebec usually was associated with fast skaters like Buffalo's Gil Perreault and Montreal's Guy Lafleur. But Biron said young goalies had some idols in the NHL as well.
"I remember Reggie Lemelin in Boston one year was unbelievable," he said. "Everybody was looking at him and his new pads, and everyone wanted those pads. Why? He was someone we looked up to. (Ex-Sabre) Jacques Cloutier was like that. There's always been good goalies coming out of the Quebec league. It's been an offensive-minded league, and the goalies learn a lot. But at the same time, there are great offensive players and great defensive players coming out too, like a Ray Bourque."
If Biron does get to play tonight, he'd be thrilled to face the 34-year-old Roy in an NHL game.
"I never really met the guy. I've never talked to him," he said. "He lives 10 minutes away from my house back around Quebec City. I saw him last year at a gas station, I was across the street. Playing against him would be something I'd look forward to, but at the same time, playing against Mike Richter in Madison Square Garden (Tuesday) was a big thrill."
If Biron plays tonight, he'd better concentrate on he Avalanche's skaters and not worry about impressing Roy. Colorado has several top players who can score at almost any time, even if veteran Joe Sakic is out with a rib injury.
Chris Drury has 10 goals and 25 assists; no Sabre even has 25 points. Milan Hejduk leads the Avalanche with 18 goals. Sandis Ozolinsh is one of the top-scoring defensemen in the league. Star forward Peter Forsberg is just rounding into shape after missing several weeks at the start of the season with a left shoulder injury.
"They play a system that is a more open style," Biron said. "They have great offensive powers. They have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net. You have to know who is on the ice, and know what they can do."
Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek, speaking in Buffalo, told reporters nothing had changed concerning his plans to retire after this season. Hasek was quoted in a newspaper in the Czech Republic over the weekend that his roin injury had made him at least consider the possibility of not leaving the Sabres this summer.
"I don't really know what was in the Czech paper," he said. "I said, if you are injured you think about it (postponing retirement) more than if you are healthy. I didn't expect to be injured for the whole season, so of course I think about it, but I haven't changed my mind yet.
"I want to play. That's the first thing, and then we will see."
Hasek said he has hopes of returning to the team to start practicing sometime after New Year's Day.