MONTREAL – Patrice Brisebois enjoyed some memorable career milestones in the NHL, but before he made his debut in the CH, he had already made his mark in a maple leaf.
Whether he was playing Midget AAA or in the QMJHL, Brisebois always found a way to be a difference-maker on the blue line. From his first strides in the Junior ranks, he controlled the game and became one of the best young players in the country. He was so good, in fact, that the Montreal native earned a distinction that had previously only ever been realized by Wayne Gretzky.
|Patrice Brisebois was the second player in Team Canada history to ever get invited to the selection camp as a 16-year-old. |
“I was the second player in Team Canada history to ever get invited to the selection camp as a 16-year-old. Mario Lemieux didn’t even do that,” joked the Canadiens’ current player development coach, of his invitation to attend the 1988 World Junior camp. “I was one of the last defensemen cut that year. That wasn’t really a tough pill to swallow for me; I was just proud to be invited as a 16-year-old. That experience gave me confidence.”
Pumped to receive his second-straight invite the following winter, Brisebois fell into some bad luck in 1989. A few days before he was set to leave for camp, the Laval Titan blue-liner suffered a knee injury. While it didn’t stop him from making the trek, Team Canada brass decided not to take the risk of making his injury worse and sent Brisebois back home to Quebec.
The third time proved to be the charm for Brisebois, who at the age of 18 finally got the chance to represent Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 1990, in Helsinki, Finland. The veteran rearguard had his work cut out for him, lining up against future NHL superstars like Pavel Bure, Alexei Zhamnov, Bobby Holik and Jaromir Jagr.
“Playing against hockey powerhouses like the USSR and Czechoslovakia was a challenge, but we were confident in our ability because we knew we had a great team, too,” admitted Brisebois, who had two goals and two assists during the tournament. “We were well prepared. It’s a short tournament and you really build that family atmosphere in those first few weeks together.
“You’re so proud to be able to be out there representing your country,” he added. “They showed us highlights of the teams that came before us who won gold. After seeing that, the motivation level in our dressing room was off the charts and we were ready to go.”
The battle between the three teams hit its climax on the final day of the tournament. Guaranteed to leave with at least a silver medal, Canada entered the day with a chance to win gold – but it wouldn’t be easy. Not only did the Canadians face a must-win game against Czechoslovakia, they also needed a little help from Sweden to stop the Soviets.
In true Hollywood fashion, Brisebois & Co. did their part, winning 2-1 before Sweden notched a last-second game-tying goal against the USSR, resulting in a 5-5 draw and a gold medal finish for Canada. But without the help of the Internet to spread the word, it took awhile for Team Canada to get the memo.
“We didn’t know right away. After we won our game against Czechoslovakia in Turku, we had to take a two-hour bus ride to Helsinki,” explained Brisebois. “We had no idea what the score was in the other game. Our coaches found out a little later and that’s how we heard we won the gold medal!”
With one gold medal already on his mantle, Brisebois had a chance to add another to his collection the following Christmas, in his final year of eligibility. Now one of the veterans in the Canadians’ lineup, Brisebois jumped at the opportunity to play on home ice in Saskatchewan in front of a crowd who expected nothing short of gold.
“When you’re a little older and you’re a returning player, you naturally get a little more responsibility. I was mature enough to realize what my role was,” shared Brisebois, who was the only member of the defensive corps returning from the previous year. “In Saskatoon, there was a little extra pressure because we were playing in front of our home crowd.”
The added pressure paid off, helping Canada to near-perfect record with just one loss during the tournament. Facing longtime rival USSR in the finals, the Canadians stymied the potent Soviet offense while John Slaney potted the deciding goal in the last minute of the game to give Canada a second-straight gold medal. For the second time in 12 month, Brisebois was back at the top of the hockey world and savoring every minute of it.
“I’m not more proud of one than the other,” stressed Brisebois, who finished third in team scoring with seven points at the 1991 World Juniors. “The first is always special because it’s a new feeling. I had trophies I won when I was younger, but nothing that compared to winning gold at the World Juniors.
“I was a little more emotional for the second one because we won it in front of our fans at home,” he continued. “When you have a championship team, it’s really hard to stay at the top because there’s so much pressure on you all the time. Those are special, magical moments you get to live during your life.”
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.
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