MONTREAL – As he gets set to lace up his skates for the 1,000th time in his career, Patrice Brisebois still remembers when it all began, on that wintry cold day back on January 27, 1991.
A few weeks after winning his second gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship, Brisebois returned to his junior squad Drummondville Voltigeurs. With his team set to hit the ice and the television airwaves as part of Super Bowl weekend, head coach Jean Hamel called him over following their morning skate.
“Jean came to see me shortly before the game and said to me, ‘I just got a call from Serge Savard. You’re playing in Montreal tomorrow. In the meantime, go out and play a big game for me,’” recalled the now 38-year-old defenseman.
Brisebois did exactly what his coach had asked, scoring a goal and adding two assists en route to earning the game’s second star as his team took the win. Then, he hopped in his car and headed to Montreal for his NHL debut, which would land on the same day as his 20th birthday.
“Mathieu Schneider and Eric Desjardins were hurt and Canadiens management decided to call me up rather than go with a guy from the American Hockey League,” explained Brisebois, who had been named the top junior defenseman in 1991. “Pat Burns paired me up with Jean-Jacques Daigneault.”
Despite a falling 2-1 to the Boston Bruins, Brisebois enjoyed a second birthday gift with his first NHL point, setting up Shayne Corson’s marker.
Eighteen years later, the veteran blue-liner is proud to finally reach the millennium mark in the NHL and even more so to do it where it all began – with the Canadiens.
“I’m really happy to be able to reach this milestone with Montreal,” said Brisebois. “The Canadiens have always been my team, my family. Sometimes, though, you have to go through rough patches to get better. I think I grew up a lot when I left here the first time and from my experience in Colorado. I’ve often thought that maybe I shouldn’t have left, but in life, lots of things are out of your control. I’m just happy to have been able to come back.”
Equally delighted for Brisebois’ milestone is former teammate Stephane Richer.
“It’s a lot harder for a defenseman to reach 1,000 games than it is for a forward. I’m really happy for Patrice,” said Richer, who suited up for 1,054 games in his own NHL career. “He’s a smart player and he’s always been very determined.”
Richer – the last Hab to hit 50-goals – is well aware of the wave of emotions Brisebois has dealt with over the course of his career and what realizing the feat means to the guy who wears his heart on his sleeve.
“If there’s any Quebec native who has been immensely proud to wear a Canadiens sweater, it’s Patrice Brisebois,” noted Richer, himself a Hab twice-over. “It hasn’t always been easy but he dealt with it well. The Canadiens uniform is the only one he’s ever wanted to wear. It’s worked out that he’s gotten the opportunity to potentially finish his career in Montreal and continue to be a part of the team even after he retires.”