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SABRES' WIVES MAKE PROGRESS ON LABOR FRONT PLAYERS UNRATTLED BY LOCKOUT

Hockey players knew the score months in advance. The NHL was certain to padlock training camps in September and probably scrap the entire season.

It was a long shot that anybody would be going Cup Crazy.

The players apparently decided to go crib crazy instead.

"A lot of guys knew the owners were going to lock us out," Buffalo Sabres goalie Martin Biron explained. "So we said to our wives "Well, let's, you know . . .'

Legend has it the great New York blackout of '65 caused a spike in childbirths nine months later. The NHL lockout of aught-four has caused a baby boom, too, except the stork started receiving his waiver claims about a year in advance.

Players around the league are having babies at higher than normal rates, and Sabres are contributing to the phenomenon.

With the NHL season about to go sleepy-bye, six Sabres and their wives have recently delivered or will soon welcome a little bundle of joy into their lives. Four of those couples are having their first child.

"Knowing there was a possible lockout in the works and we were going to be home, everybody saw a bigger window of opportunity," Biron said.

"If you can take a positive out of the whole thing it's that you're home and able to enjoy the whole experience and help out and be able to live it every day and not be on the road for two or three weeks and missing some of those important times."

Eric and Ryan Boulton had their second child, Sawyer, on July 12. Two weeks later Martin and Anne Marie Biron held their first child, Jacob.

Mika and Hanna Noronen became brand new parents on Aug. 4 when Nella arrived. J.P. and Kristin Dumont also joined the club when Ella was born Sept. 17.

Rory and Tracey Fitzpatrick last Wednesday had their fourth child, a boy they named after dad.

Jay and Nicole McKee are anxiously awaiting the birth of their first baby, who was due to arrive Saturday. They know it will be a girl, butthey're keeping the name a surprise.

At least three other recent Sabres - Rob Ray, Steve Begin and Erik Rasmussen - also recently have had or will have their first children.

"It cracks me up," Kristin Dumont said. "It's not like the wives all got together and planned it, but it's kind of neat."

The NHL Players Association declined to divulge how many of its members have added dependents to their medical plans, but tales indicate the number is inordinately high.

"I had to call the NHLPA just for insurance purposes with my wife delivering," McKee said, "and the woman I talked to said that I was one of very many calling, that there are a lot of babies around the league coming in around this time."

So players across North America are putting down The Hockey News and picking up BabyTalk.

They're not icing injuries, they're treating diaper rash.

When they hear "Gerber" they don't immediately think of Carolina Hurricanes goalie Martin Gerber.

They now have a new drinking buddy when they crack open a Pedialyte.

"The lockout has been bittersweet," Kristen Dumont said. "When we first found out we were pregnant, I thought he might be able to get away for the birth, if that. It stinks that he's not playing hockey, but it's wonderful having him around.

"He gets to spend a lot of quality time with Ella. She just started smiling, and she knows whenever he's around."

Part of the Sabres' baby boom could be attributed to the fact they were the youngest team in the NHL last season when 41-year-old defenseman James Patrick was out of the lineup.

"We have a young team and everybody's growing together," Biron said. "It's that time where everybody is in the family plan. That same group that came up the last four or five years, you've seen them go from single guys to engaged to married to having babies."

Biron traced the baby boom to a Halloween party he threw last year. He insisted he didn't dress as Cupid.

"That ensuing week there were three or four conceptions," Biron said. "Maybe it was something I put in the water. Myself, Boulton and Noronen were all due the first week of August. You count back nine months, that's the first week of November."

Said Fitzpatrick: "Seems like every other week someone was coming in and saying "We're having a baby!' "

The Sabres recall what a wreck center Chris Drury was last December, when his wife was about to deliver their first child. He was preoccupied in the days before Rory Drury's due date, and their stress level soared when she went several days beyond.

When the Sabres were away from home Drury would have nightmares about missing the big moment. He didn't make the team flight for a road game. There was a false alarm.

His play suffered, and he got off to one of the worst starts of his career. He had never scored fewer than 20 goals in a season, but he scored only four in the 29 games before he became a dad. He finished the season with 18.

"It would be overwhelming," Kristin Dumont said. "I know people have done it before, but it has been nice to have J.P. here. I had a Caesarean, so he was here to do all those things I couldn't during my recovery period. We've been lucky."

On Nicole McKee's due date the Sabres were supposed to be playing in Raleigh, N.C. It would have been the sixth game in nine days and part of a stretch that included nine games over 16 days.

"That's just stressful on the player," Jay McKee said. "If you're on the road and know your wife is due any day, it takes a little piece away of getting ready for hockey games, and it's stressful for the wife as well.

"If there was a time to be locked out, this works out for me."

J.P. Dumont can't imagine better solace during the lockout than coming home to his daughter every day. It beats logging another trip to Pittsburgh or Ottawa or East Rutherford, N.J.

"I was gone playing hockey in Montreal for charity (last month), and it was really the first test for me," Dumont said. "It was pretty hard, but I was really happy to come home. When I got back at 2 in the morning I just went in the room and looked at her and thought "This is worth it.' "

Fitzpatrick, whose kids have been seen after games romping around the dressing room in their footy pajamas, sounded a bit more wary about the joys of becoming a dad - again.

"It might be a little more tiring than playing at times," he said.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com