by Damon Markiewicz
It’s hard to believe it has been almost nine years since a rookie named Daniel Briere came to Springfield with high expectations in starting his professional career after dominating the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Now, more than 400 National Hockey League games later, Briere has inched closer to fulfilling his ultimate goal, winning a Stanley Cup with the Buffalo Sabres.
There is no question that Briere was and remains one of the most popular and dominate players ever to wear a Falcons uniform. The native of Gatineau, Que., arrived on the scene in Springfield as a 20-year-old known for his scoring touch and his ability to take over a game with his offensive ability. During the 1995-96 season, Briere led the QMJHL in scoring with 163 points in 67 games and became only the fourth player in history (Mario Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk, Pat LaFontaine) to lead the QMJHL in goals, assists and points in the same season.
Finally, after displaying his skill at the junior hockey level, Briere made his pro debut with the Falcons on Oct. 3, 1997, against the Worcester IceCats, but it was the following night in which Briere scored his first pro goal and added two assists in leading the Falcons to a 7-6 victory at Worcester earning the game’s second star and beginning a memorable season for the rookie center.
"I really enjoyed playing in Springfield and had a lot of fun and met a lot of great people," said Briere, who prepares for Game One of the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals set for Saturday at Carolina. "I was very fortunate to play with a lot of great players and we had a very good team my rookie year. It was a great way to start my pro career."
Briere’s opening night in 1997 was only a prelude to what was to occur the remainder of the season. Briere was named the AHL’s Rookie of the Year during the 1997-98 campaign after collecting 36 goals and 56 assists for 92 points in 68 games and he also made his NHL debut in March of 1998 scoring his first NHL goal at Los Angeles.
"Scoring that first NHL is always a dream come true," said Briere, who was originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.
After sharing time with both the Falcons and Coyotes from 1997-2003, Briere was dealt by the Coyotes to the Sabres at the trading deadline in 2003 and it’s now in Buffalo where Briere has blossomed into a leader and an offensive catalyst for the Sabres.
Briere averaged nearly a point a game when arriving in Buffalo collecting 12 points in 14 games concluding the 2002-03 campaign. In his first full season with Buffalo, Briere led the Sabres in scoring with 28 goals and 37 assists for 65 points, while setting new NHL career highs in assists in a single season. Not only was Briere getting it done on the ice, the now NHL veteran was earning his stripes as a leader and served as team captain for both December and March.
"Again, I was very lucky to arrive in Buffalo and play with some very talented players right away," said Briere, who ended up wearing jersey number 48 in Buffalo, instead of his traditional number 8. "From day one, we knew we had a very good team in Buffalo and you could see we had the talent to have some success right away."
That success has continued into the 2005-06 season as the Sabres finished the regular season with 52 wins and 110 points. Buffalo has proven their regular season wasn’t a fluke after disposing of the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round and the Ottawa Senators in round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, only eight wins away from fulfilling another dream, Briere and his teammates have their eyes on the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.
"As a kid growing up in Canada, you always think about winning the Stanley Cup," said Briere. "It’s a tough road, but winning the Stanley Cup is special to all hockey players."