PHILADELPHIA – Despite being one of the greatest playoff performers of all time, Danny Briere never got to lift the Stanley Cup. He seemed at peace with that fact Tuesday as he formally embraced retirement.
Still, thoughts about what might have been pop up now and then.
As the former Sabres co-captain reminisced with folks from Buffalo on Tuesday, the conversation inevitably turned to the 2005-06 playoffs. The Sabres had a magical run to the Eastern Conference finals, only to lose in Game Seven after injuries decimated the roster.
“I realized that year, to win a Stanley Cup you have to be good but you also have to be lucky,” Briere said in Wells Fargo Center. “You need things going your way. You need bounces coming your way. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“I’m still convinced to this day that we had the best team left out of the last four. It was our Stanley Cup, and we just got unlucky with the injuries. That’s the way it goes. It’s too bad, but I still keep a lot of good memories from that whole playoff series.”
Memories from 17 years in the NHL enveloped Briere on Tuesday as the Philadelphia Flyers honored him with a retirement night before facing the Sabres. The 38-year-old spent his prime with the two teams, skating for the Sabres from 2003 to 2007 before spending six seasons in a Flyers uniform.
Briere helped turn around both franchises, carrying the Sabres to back-to-back conference finals and the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup final.
“My most amazing time with the Flyers was that time in 2010, the two-month stretch when we went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals,” said Briere, who recorded 12 goals and 30 points during the 23-game run. “Unfortunately, it didn’t end the way I was dreaming of, but it was still an amazing time.
“In Buffalo, those two playoff runs to the conference final were pretty amazing. They were both good in their own way.”
None of the runs would have been possible without Briere’s clutch performances. He is tied for 17th in NHL history with 13 game-winning goals in the postseason. He ranks 61st in playoff points after recording 53 goals, 63 assists and 116 points in 124 outings.
“He did a lot for this organization and also the city,” Flyers center Claude Giroux said. “Every time we had playoffs, he put his game to another level. It was pretty amazing. He wanted to win so much.”
Once thought too small to succeed, Briere played in 973 regular-season games while putting up 307 goals and 696 points. He played for Colorado last season and decided to hang up his skates this fall.
“It was only one year I played with him, but it was a treat,” said Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly, who came over from the Avalanche. “He’s one of the classiest guys in the game. He’s just a great guy, great teammate.
“It was amazing just how smart he was. He thought the game so well. He always put himself in a good position. He might not look like he was going hard, but he didn’t have to because he could think the game so well. I was obviously watching him growing up and just how much he scored, it was game-winning goals all the time.”
Briere’s passion for the game continues. He’s working in an unofficial capacity for the Flyers, learning from team President Paul Holmgren and Chief Operating Officer Shawn Tilger.
“They have kind of taken me under their wings and given me the chance to learn the business side of a hockey team,” Briere said. “My meetings for years have been about the teams that I’m facing and power plays and stuff like that, and now I have meetings about season tickets and premium seating, services, food and concessions. It’s very different, but I’m learning a lot.
“It’s a great opportunity. We’ll see where it takes me down the road. I’m trying to take advantage of it while it’s there in front of me.”
While he still looks young enough to pull on a uniform, Briere is embracing retirement.
“It’s actually been pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a little different because my whole life you’re being told everywhere you go, ‘Be here at this time. You have this. You have that. You have curfews. You have to sacrifice for hockey left and right. Take care of yourself.’
“Not that I’m not taking care of myself, but if you don’t do it one night it’s not the end of the world. I’m enjoying it. I still love the game. I’ve always said, even as a player, that I love playing hockey and I’m a hockey player, but I’m a big fan of the game, too. Now I have the chance to sit back, enjoy the game, watch hockey games at home at night and follow what’s going on around the NHL.
“I’m having a blast.”