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Danny B. Good

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
Bill Fleischman
He is the short guy in orange and black, darting around the ice, making smart plays while driving defenders to distraction. One moment, he’s there. The next moment, he’s over there, then the Ice Phantom is gone again.

Danny Briere is listed as 5-10, 179 pounds, but take at least one inch off that published height. Size isn’t an issue with Briere though: he scored 21 goals  in 38 games this season, giving him  251 NHL career goals. At the Christmas break Briere was tied with Claude Giroux for most goals scored (16) by a Flyers player this season.

That someone Briere’s size can be a prominent NHL player is a plus for the sport. Younger players Briere’s size who watch him play must think “If Danny Briere can do it, so can I.”

One of Briere’s strengths is his ability to maneuver around the ice without getting checked hard.

Smiling, Briere said, “It comes from all those years of playing against bigger guys.   If you’re a big guy and you need to hit, then you’ll find ways to get involved. My game is a little different: I have to find the holes and get lost in the (offensive) zone. You can’t play on the perimeter: you have to get to the front of the net. Sometimes you’re going to get hit. Most goals are scored right in the crease.”

Somehow, it seems Briere has been with the Flyers longer than four seasons. Remember why the Flyers signed him as an expensive free agent after he had several productive seasons with Buffalo? He brought needed speed to Flyers attack.

Briere has been a star in the Stanley Cup playoffs with Buffalo and the Flyers. In the 2008 playoffs for the Flyers he collected 9 goals and 7 assists in 17 games. Last season, powering the Flyers memorable march to the Stanley Cup finals, Briere led the NHL in playoff points with 30 in 23 games, setting a Flyers record. Linemates Ville Leino (7 goals, 14 assists) and Scott Hartnell (8 goals, 9 assists) combined with Briere to make their line very effective.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was patient after Briere was paired with Hartnell and Leino.

“It didn’t happen right away,” Laviolette said. “They were struggling to score goals (but) we hung onto that line because we believed, and we still believe, they are capable of doing a lot of damage on any given night. I think with Danny being back in the middle and being counted on, he’s feeling that confidence.”
General Manager Paul Holmgren presents Danny Briere with his Flyers jersey. (Flyers Photos)

In an era where coaches sometimes tinker with lines faster than hic cups, Hartnell says Laviolette’s patience paid off.

“Being with the same guys for a long stretch helps your chemistry,” Hartnell said. “Each guy brings something to the table. Danny’s got a great scoring touch, a great shot. I get in front of the net and get pucks to Ville. He makes great plays.”

Briere agrees that ice time together is a key to the line’s success.

“The continuity with our line has a lot to do with it,” he said. “You know each other. We found ourselves on the ice. Chemistry is a tough thing to explain, but we always have a knack for knowing where our linemates are going to be. It’s a great advantage when you throw the puck in the offensive zone and you don’t have to think about it. It just happens. I don’t think we have reached our potential.

Briere finally reached his potential with Phoenix during the 2001-02 season when he scored 32 goals and added 28 assists. Previously, he alternated between Phoenix and some minor league stops.

Briere was a first-round draft choice of Phoenix in 1996 after scoring an astounding 67 goals in 67 games (plus 96 assists) for Drummondville I the Quebec Junior Major League. Briere spent another productive season  with Drummondville (52-78-130) before turning pro.

“I never knew if I was going to be able to take that next step to get a permanent spot on an NHL team,” Briere said. “That was always my goal. You have to keep fighting for it. Part of it was learning about the game, where can I go to be successful, what type of game do I need to be successful? Adjusting was a big part of the process.”

Briere was traded to Buffalo in March 2003, with Chris Gratton (a former Flyers disappointment) moving to the dessert from Buffalo.

“Going to Buffalo was a good thing,” Briere said. “I started establishing myself in Phoenix, but it seemed the organization never really believed in me. In Buffalo I got lots of ice time. Finding chemistry with a couple guys there really helped.”

With more than a decade in the NHL, Briere has seen significant changes in the league.

“It’s way different now,” he said. “The players are getting better and better. The new rules have changed the game a lot. I remember when I started, if you were in front of the net and the puck popped loose in the corner, your ride to the corner there was someone on your back or there was a stick in your stomach. Now, nobody’s allowed to touch you until you get to the puck.”

Briere has seen many talented younger players such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin enter the league. Another young player Briere is impressed with is Tampa’s Steve Stamkos. At this writing, Stamkos is runner-up to Crosby in scoring. Last season, as a rookie, Stamkos scored 51 goals.

“He’s a big guy, good shooter,” Briere said. “His shot is hard, accurate and quick.”

Briere, 33, is popular with the media as a go-to guy for insight and honest answers to questions. On the rare occasions this season when the Flyers aren’t playing well, he’ll offer his opinions when quizzed by reporters. Briere delivers his views without throwing teammates under the Zamboni.

During Claude Giroux’s rookie season, Briere told me that Giroux would be an NHL superstar. At the time, I thought Briere might be right, but he also was pumping up his fellow French Canadian who was finding his way in the NHL. Well, Briere was right: Giroux is on his way to an elite level.

Danny Briere: skilled hockey player, good teammate, shrewd forecaster.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1982, he was an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.

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