Ever wondered how it feels to be tossed around like a hacky-sack?
Just ask Mathieu Biron. The 21-year old has been passed back and forth between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Springfield Falcons four times already this season.
Frustrating? Hardly. Biron takes the transition in stride. “It’s not what I prefer, but it’s part of the business,” he explains. A business that might require the young defenseman to take stock in Dramamine. As if being traded three times in three years weren’t strain enough, Biron has spent the past two seasons being juggled between his NHL teams and their affiliates.
Follow the bouncing defenseman…
He’s up: Averaging over 14 minutes of valuable NHL experience per game, not to mention the off-ice guidance he’s receiving from veteran defenseman Grant Ledyard. He’s down: Displaying offensive potential with three goals and four assists in his 23 games with the Falcons. He’s up: Disproving his critics, averaging 1.4 hits per game. He is currently ranked 10th among his teammates in hits, even though he’s played half as many games. He’s down: Fine-tuning his game while awaiting his return to the city by the bay.
While most players may view a trip to the farm as a confidence-denting demotion, Biron takes it as a challenge and utilizes his time there to improve his game. “The style in the AHL is so much different,” he said. “Here (in the NHL) it is so much more under control. When you make a mistake, you are going to pay for it.”
The more open style of the AHL gives Biron a chance to explore the offensive aspects of his game, hence his seven points while maintaining his defensive responsibilities. He is one of only three Lightning prospects rated on the plus side of the goal differential category, at plus-4. The noticeable improvement and heightened confidence level make Biron’s accumulating frequent flyer miles well-earned. “He has done remarkably well for a guy who was sent down and called up,” said Tampa Bay general manager Rick Dudley.
Says Biron of the transition, “You play two teams, two systems, two coaches, two styles of game, it’s very difficult.” Yet, despite the constant changes, he is managing to put on one of the best performances of his young career and is making a lasting impression.
“He’s gotten an opportunity because of injuries and has run with it,” said head coach John Tortorella of Biron’s recent stint with the Bolts. Dudley added, “He has made himself one of our six.”
Management’s trust in Biron is evident by his presence on the ice in the final minutes of one-goal games. One would assume such a display would boost a young player’s confidence level, but Biron sees that as a confusion of cause and effect. “I truly think it doesn’t give you confidence. I think they put you out there because you have confidence.”
While he hasn’t yet broken out the offense for the Lightning, Biron has played solidly on defense. He has exhibited the eagerness and desire to be a part of the big club. He has also provided a large physical presence—an area where the team has been lacking. “He has such a subtle personality off the ice,” remarked Tortorella. “Sometimes he brings that on the ice.”
Which may explain why the soft-spoken boy from Quebec City has had such a hard time in the past handling the rougher side of things. Now, that is changing. With each minute his blades touch the ice, whether it be in the NHL, AHL or at a local rink, Biron is working, learning, improving, maturing and making the most of every opportunity he is given.