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For Birons, big brother is a relative term

When Tampa Bay's Mathieu Biron was younger, older brother Marty, who plays for Buffalo, would pick on him. That won't happen tonight.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 2, 2001


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Marty Biron remembers working to toughen up his brother Mathieu during the neighborhood hockey games in Quebec City.

A cross-check here, an elbow and a slash there. Hey, isn't that what brothers are for?

Back then, 15-year-old Marty had the upper hand on 12-year-old Mathieu. But when they meet tonight at HSBC Arena, it is Marty, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound goaltender for the Sabres who will look up to Mathieu, a 6-6, 220-pound defenseman for the Lightning.

"Right now," Marty said, "I would not want to get in a fist fight with him. He would bust my butt in a second."

It is the second time the brothers, now 24 and 21, have faced off in the NHL, continuing an intense but friendly rivalry that, in its earlier form, covered hockey, baseball, tennis, Nintendo or whatever they happened to be playing.

As they have grown older, they have grown closer. They talk on the phone once a week, had dinner Wednesday, and on Thursday had dinner with their parents, Rejean and Celine, who drove eight hours from Quebec City to see the game.

By the way, Marty said he takes after Rejean's side of the family.

"Tall and thin," he said.

Mathieu, he said, takes after Celine's.

"They all have big hands, big shoulders, big necks," Marty said.

One thing the brothers do share: a pair of piercing blue eyes.

The family rarely talks hockey when it gets together, and the conversation is filled with jokes and laughter. So it was no surprise the trash talk that came out of the brothers' respective locker rooms.

"The only way I wouldn't (score on) him is because the defense is so good," Mathieu said. "Getting the puck past him is the easy part."

"He's always saying he's going to score on me," Marty said. "I never answer that."

"If I get a chance to score on him, I will laugh in his face," Mathieu said.

"If he does score on me," Marty said, "I will never hear the end of it."

Considering the glee with which the jibes were delivered, had the brothers been standing together, they no doubt would have fallen over each other laughing. But when it really got down to it, and they were asked what they wanted from the game, it was nothing but brotherly love.

"For me, the best scenario is (the Sabres) would win and I'd be happy and I'd see him after the game and we would shake hands and go on with things," Marty said.

With the way things are going for both players, that would not be bad. Marty, who stepped into the pressure cooker of replacing Dominik Hasek, has a 2.18 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.

Mathieu was supposed to be a temporary call-up from the AHL's Springfield Falcons but has stuck around, and coach John Tortorella called him "a pleasant surprise."

Mathieu has no points but has a zero plus/minus rating and averages 10:27 of ice time. He is raw, especially when it comes to positioning, but Tortorella likes his passing, a general shortcoming for the Tampa Bay defense.

"He's such a big man and he takes up so much space, once he learns the positioning, he will be a very good defenseman," Tortorella said.

Tortorella wouldn't mind Mathieu throwing his weight around a little more. But the coach did praise two hits Mathieu took Tuesday against the Maple Leafs because it showed he is not afraid to take some punishment to make a play.

Mathieu pushed to make some plays two seasons ago, the first time the brothers met. Mathieu, then with the Islanders, took three shots but did not score and the Sabres got the victory.

"It was awesome," Mathieu said of facing Marty. "It's always a weird feeling to look into the opposite net and see your brother, and he's the enemy."

Well, sort of.

SVITOV UPDATE: The tug of war over Lightning draft pick Alexander Svitov continues. A report by the Web site hockeysfuture.com said the No. 3 overall pick has returned to Avangard Omsk in his hometown of Omsk, Siberia.

The 6-3, 200-pound forward, and Stanislav Chistov (the No. 5 overall pick by the Mighty Ducks) had been shifted, by force of the military police, from Avangard Omsk to the Central Red Army team. But the report said the Russian Federation intervened and both were returned to their original team.

TONIGHT: LIGHTNING AT SABRES

WHEN/WHERE: 7; HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.

TV/RADIO: Sunshine; WDAE-AM 620.

THE LOWDOWN: Rookie RW Nikita Alexeev, scratched in seven of 11 games, will play on a line with C Vinny Lecavalier and LW Vinny Prospal. The opportunity comes because Jimmie Olvestad is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right shoulder. Jassen Cullimore (sprained left ankle) practiced Thursday and might play. Former Sabres Dave Andreychuk, Brian Holzinger and Matthew Barnaby will play as a line. The Lightning has lost two straight. The Sabres have lost three in a row. Tampa Bay has killed 23 consecutive short-handed situations and 30 of 31. Going into Thursday night, it was 12th in the league with an 86.4 efficiency (38-for-44). Buffalo's power play was 25th with a 10.6 percent efficiency (7-for-66). The Sabres are 4-3-0 against Eastern Conference teams. The Lightning is 1-4-1. Buffalo D James Patrick is one of 14 players to appear in 1,100 games. He has played in 1,107. The Lightning trails the series 10-21-2-1 and is 6-10-1 in Buffalo. Tampa Bay hasn't won in Buffalo since March 1999.

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