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Scoring big for charity Briere returns for event to aid Camp Good Days

When Daniel Briere arrived here four years ago, he said our city "smelled like hockey."

Just back from visiting Philadelphia, where he will play next season, the star player said his new home smells "like cheese steak."

But Saturday, despite a warm welcome from Sabres fans, Briere smelled like burned toast.

Fisher-Price toy designer Mark Wojtkiewicz scorched the All-Star center, 7-2, in a charitable bubble hockey tournament at Lasertron Interactive Entertainment Center in Amherst.

Wojtkiewicz, 44, part of a duo who won the 2003 National Bubble Boys Hockey Tournament, didn't need any favors from Briere to win.

Neither did Orchard Park High School junior Scott Campbell, who beat Briere, 2-1.

Briere shouted "Marty!" several times after his toy goaltender made some big saves during the several bubble hockey games he played.

"Marty was good," Briere joked after one of his wins, a reference to former Sabres goalie Martin Biron, whom Briere will be joining on the Philadelphia Flyers.

But Scott, 16, had a reply that prompted even Briere to smile.

"Ryan Miller played really well for me," he told those who watched him beat Briere.

Camp Good Days, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children who are coping with cancer, brought several children to the Vitaminwater-sponsored event. And they got a chance to play Briere.

"Take it easy on Marty," Briere told 9-year-old Colton Kowalczyk as their spirited game started.

Colton won, 2-1.

Vitaminwater donated $25 to Camp Good Days for every goal scored during the charitable tournament. Afterward, the company announced a $5,000 contribution.

Even as Colton, Scott and Wojtkiewicz were beating Briere, they offered nothing but best wishes. Not even good-natured ribbing about the Flyers, a hated rival, could be heard -- a testament to how well liked Briere is among those in the crowd.

Good luck in Philly.

Briere heard that comment over and over during his one-hour-plus appearance.

And he returned the sentiment.

Fans may be disappointed and even disgusted about how the team's executives failed to keep the star player in a Sabres uniform.

But Briere, who signed an eight-year, $52 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, said he wants Sabres fans to remember the good memories.

"I'm leaving Buffalo and the Sabres, and I'm taking with me just the good memories," Briere said. "Obviously, there's been some tough times and there's things I wish would have been done differently.

"But you know, that's not what I'm taking," he continued. "And, I'm hoping it's the same thing with the fans, that they keep cherishing the good memories and especially the past two seasons we've had here."

Joe Kolson, 36, of Kenmore, who works at the Goodyear-Dunlop plant, called himself a Briere fan.

"I wish him well," Kolson said after having his photograph taken with Briere. "I wish our team more well."

Briere acknowledged Sabres fans' passion.

"The fans were behind us," Briere said. "It was an amazing ride. That's going to be tough to leave behind."

During last season, Briere thought he and the Sabres could reach a deal for him to stay.

"I knew they had the policy of not negotiating during the season," Briere said. "I was fine with that. No big deal. I thought after the season things were going to get done."

But he realized a week before the free agency signing period that his Sabres days were finished.

"That's when I kind of realized they were moving in a different direction," Briere said. "There's no hard feelings. Obviously, I would have liked to continue my career here. But it's not the way it's playing out.

"And I'm excited about going to Philly," he added. "I'm not going to lie. I had a good time when I spent the last week there. I think our team is on the upswing. I'm excited about the new challenge."

Still, he's going to the worst team in the NHL last year.

And on one charitable and fun-filled Saturday afternoon, bubble hockey players Colton, Scott and Wojtkiewicz gave him a dose of what it will be like seeing goals go into his team's net -- Martin Biron or not.


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