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A true Flyer

by John Kopp / Philadelphia Flyers
The summer of 2007 arrived as a transitional period for both the Flyers and Danny Briere, a free agent coming off the best year of his career with the Buffalo Sabres.

The Flyers were revamping their roster after suffering through the worst season in franchise history, though just their first losing season in 12 years. They sought an experienced centerpiece to complement their youthful core.

At age 29, Briere was in the prime of his career and, given the 95 points he had racked up for Buffalo, was assured of receiving plenty of long-term opportunities. Yet, he knew his next destination likely would be the place he’d play most, if not all, of his remaining years as a hockey player.

Briere is now five years into the eight-year contract he inked with the Flyers that summer. In terms of games played, the bulk of his career has been spent in a Flyers uniform. When Briere suited up against the New Jersey Devils earlier this month, it marked his 259th game for the Flyers, the most he has played for any NHL team.

“I don’t think it’s something that really crosses your mind while you’re playing,” Briere said. “I don’t know how many more games I’ll get to play, so I’m trying to enjoy it all and trying to live in the moment and focus on one game at a time. All of the numbers, the legacy stuff, all that stuff is something that when my career is over, you’ll look back on it and appreciate it a little more. But right now, it’s not something I think about.”

Now in his 14th year in the league, Briere has constructed quite an individual resume. On Monday night, Danny Briere scored his 600th point in the National Hockey League with an assist on Scott Hartnell's second period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A two-time All-Star, Briere won the midseason exhibition’s Most Valuable Player award in 2007. He’s also been an elite playoff performer during his stints in Phoenix, Buffalo and Philly.
But Briere knows he is missing the only piece that really matters to a hockey player.

“The one and only thing I care about is putting my hands on that Stanley Cup, to bring it back here to the fans here in Philly,” Briere said. “That’s the ultimate goal and that’s the only thing I really care about at this point. When I look back, I’m sure I’ll appreciate everything that’s been done. But it will be even better if I get to look back with a Stanley Cup.”

That pursuit is largely what brought him to Philadelphia, a city that consistently has churned out playoff teams, but come up short on championships since 1975.

“It was probably one of the best decisions I ever made,” Briere said. “I also know I have one more big step I need to make and I really believe that I’ll get that chance here in Philadelphia more than anywhere else.”

The Flyers came two wins away from capturing hockey’s Holy Grail in 2010, falling to the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2, in the Stanley Cup Finals. Briere carried the Flyers that spring, tallying 30 points, more than any Flyer ever accumulated in a single postseason.

Briere followed that performance with a career-best 34 goals last year. He had another strong showing in the playoffs, leading the team with nine points and seven goals.

Such playoff production has defined Briere’s tenure as a Flyer. In 57 games, he’s registered 59 points on 29 goals and 30 assists. Of the Flyers who have played at least 15 playoff games, only Eric Lindros, Ken  Linseman and Briere have averaged more than a point per game.

Briere also owns eight game-winning playoff tallies. Only Rick MacLeish has more.

No matter where he ranks among the Flyers’ postseason greats, Briere said that means little if he doesn’t win the Cup. After all, he noted the most revered Flyers are the ones who twice hoisted the Cup in the 1970s.

“Sometimes here, that’s all we hear about is the players that won the Cup in the 70s,” Briere said. “Everywhere you go, these guys are still talked about and cherished as gods around here. That’s pretty cool.

“For me personally, all I want is to experience it just one time and give a chance for all those fans that have been waiting for so many years to relive that once again. That’s the only thing that if I look back on my career that I’m missing that I wish I could put my hands on.”

As both a veteran and an alternate captain, the Flyers are counting on Briere to be one of the leaders in achieving that shared goal. The Flyers brought in a number of talented, young newcomers during the offseason. Gaining a feel for how the pieces fit together will require patience.

“I think he sets a good example for our team and for our young players,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s the perfect teammate and I think he’s done a good job of handling that. Even last year, when he wasn’t wearing a letter on his sweater, I thought he was one of the leaders.”

Though the mild-mannered Briere is more of a lead-by-example kind of guy, he’s not afraid to speak his mind.

Claude Giroux said he can recount several instances in which Briere spoke up in recent years. Per locker room code, Giroux wouldn’t delve into specifics, but said Briere has the team’s ear when he speaks.

“He’s not a guy that talks a lot, but when he does everybody listens,” said Giroux, who spent last season as Briere’s housemate. “He’s the kind of guy that when he says something, guys know he’s not kidding around. It means he’s pretty serious.”

Briere has been with the Flyers as long as anyone except Braydon Coburn, who only predates him by a few months. He understands that distinction comes with a certain responsibility.

“I take some pride in that, being (among) the longest-tenured (players) around here,” he said.  “I think it means something. I think off the ice, you get to know everybody  a little bit more. You’ve been here the longest and you have a leadership role that comes with it.”

That’s what Briere signed on to do back in 2007. By contributing 104 goals and 119 assists, he’s had a strong start here, but both the Flyers and Briere are hoping for a championship to validate it.

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