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Briere the star among stars Once unwanted, Sabre named All-Star MVP

DALLAS - The Stanley Cup is engraved with myriad names of players who were waived during their careers. They can end up on rosters in various roles, maybe even make an impact to some degree on a great team.

Not often does a player get thrown into the remainder bin, get passed over by every club and become such a stalwart he gets named MVP of the All-Star Game.

Buffalo Sabres center Daniel Briere scored Wednesday night's opening goal and had a five-point game for the Eastern Conference in the American Airlines Center.

Briere's gaudy performance, one point shy of Mario Lemieux's 19-year-old All-Star record, wasn't enough in a 12-9 Western Conference triumph, but it made him the first Sabre to win an MVP since Rick Martin 30 years ago.

"I don't think I fully realize what's going on," said Briere, smiling and still bewildered. He received a crystal trophy and a 2007 Dodge Nitro SUV. "When you think of all the guys who have even been named MVP . . . In the first place, I never thought that I'd ever get a chance to play here in an All-Star Game. I feel fortunate just to be here."

Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who also started for the East along with Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell, allowed three goals on 12 shots. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff rotated his three goalies, replacing Miller at the first intermission with Martin Brodeur.

Each of Buffalo's players was making his first All-Star appearance, and Briere seized his moment. He began the game with poster boys Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin but for the rest of the game centered Dany Heatley, his former linemate in international competition, and Marian Hossa.

"It just seemed to click," Ruff said.

Briere deflected Heatley's through-the-crease pass 3:38 into the game and had the primary assist on three other goals. He was on the ice for six of the East's nine goals and was a plus-5.

Only seven others have recorded five points in the game's 60-year history.

"That's why we call him Sneaky B," Campbell said. "He sneaks around and finds the holes out there, finds places to score. He sets up guys, but he's quiet sometimes."

Briere said his All-Star experience was more about enjoying the activities and the camaraderie, and it wasn't a time to feel vindication.

But Briere's motor runs on disrespect as much as a Lamborghini burns through 98-octane. While he might have been thinking happy thoughts when he was introduced to the crowd or when he potted his goal, the words from all the naysayers - the comments that propelled him to such an elevated stage - couldn't have been stashed too far in the back of his mind.

"It's mostly a faceless person, "NHL experts,' as I like to call them," Briere said. "They don't have a face. It's a lot of different people. When I was waived there were a lot of people involved. There were 29 other teams. That means 29 other general managers, 29 assistant GMs, scouts, coaches. There were a lot of people. It's not one person in particular.

"The waivers, the trade, all the comments about my size. . . . It's all things that I use as motivation."

Many scoffed when the 29-year-old from Gatineau, Quebec, was awarded a one-year, $5 million contract through arbitration. He went into the break leading the Sabres in scoring with 18 goals and a career-high 39 assists through 49 games.

"I'm someone that relies a lot on motivation to get myself up for games and to prove people wrong," Briere said. "What happened in the past - everything that happens that I can use as motivation - I'm going to use."

Listed at 5-foot-10 by the NHL, he confessed to being about 2 inches shorte. For all but about the past three years of Briere's life, he was typecast as too small to be an everyday NHL force.

"I hear a lot of people tell me, "If you were 6-1, you would have been a top-five pick in the draft and would have done this and done that.' I'm not so sure," Briere said. "If I wasn't smaller than everybody else, I'm not so sure I would have the same drive, the same will to prove that I belong in this world of "The bigger, the better.' "

Seven years ago, an All-Star MVP was about as likely for Briere as league expansion to Mozambique. Briere was an erratic Phoenix Coyotes prospect, and they waived him in October 2000.

Teams had 72 hours to consider picking up Briere and his $660,000 salary. All 29 potential employers, including the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, declined.

Briere's name frequently was involved in trade rumors until Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier made a deal that likely saved his job.

In March 2003, Chris Gratton was sent to Phoenix for Briere in a deal that also upgraded Buffalo's draft position the next summer. Briere has 78 goals and 192 points through 193 regular-season games in a Buffalo uniform. Gratton has bounced around, recording 37 goals and 85 points in 220 games for three teams.

"I'm coming from a long way out," Briere said. "Maybe what happened to me early in my career makes me appreciate a lot what's going on right now. I'm very lucky to still be playing hockey in the NHL.

"I never thought that one day I'd have the chance to be here."

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