Danny Briere has traded in his hockey sweaters for a suit and tie. The man who was once a 5-foot-9 dynamo on the ice for the Buffalo Sabres now resides in Philadelphia, two months removed from announcing his retirement from the NHL.
Briere spends his time learning the business of hockey under Philadelphia Flyers president Paul Holmgren in an unofficial capacity. He doesn’t know what’s next for him, but on Tuesday night, after a ceremony in his honor at Wells Fargo Center, he took a few moments to reflect on what’s come before.
He smiled as he reminisced on his days playing in Buffalo.
“That’s where it really started my NHL career, where it really took off I should say,” he said. “That’s a special thing that I’ll always keep with me. Buffalo was great to me and I loved it.”
Briere was acquired by the Sabres from the Phoenix Coyotes at the trade deadline in 2003. At age 25, he had already complied 146 points in the NHL in parts of six seasons, but his best years were still ahead of him.
He went on to play 225 regular-season games with the Sabres over four years, co-captaining teams that made consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances in 2005-06 and 2006-07. His patented goal celebration – a right-handed fist pump while gliding on one knee – became about as common a sight on the ice as his No. 48 jersey became in the stands at what is now First Niagara Center.
The real magic began in 2005. Briere was entering his third year with the Sabres and seeking his first postseason appearance with the club. The NHL was coming off of the lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season. New rules and stricter enforcement of them by officials brought changes to the game.
That, Briere said, is when the Sabres took off.
“We adapted really well,” he said. “Using more speed, staying away from taking penalties especially and just using the new rules to our advantage, it was fun to be a part of that.”
Thanks to coach Lindy Ruff’s understanding of the new NHL, Briere said, the Sabres caught the League by surprise that season. Buffalo won 52 games in a campaign that ended in Game 7 of a memorable Eastern Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The following year, expectations were high.
“Everybody was waiting for us but we knew we had a good team,” Briere said.
The Sabres responded by compiling a 52-24-6 record that year for 110 points en route to winning the Presidents’ Trophy and playing their way to another Eastern Conference Finals. Briere led the way with a career-high 95 points (32+63).
In his four seasons with Buffalo, he compiled 92 goals and 138 assists for 230 points. But while he never captured that elusive Stanley Cup, he’ll always remember the magic of those deep playoff runs.
“The two playoff runs that we made all the way to the conference finals were something special that I’ll always remember,” he said. “I’ll never forget that.”
More than anything, he remembers the supports of the fans during those years.
“The fans, the fans were amazing, a great hockey city,” Briere said. “I couldn’t believe how passionate and how much people cared about the Buffalo Sabres and it was really cool to be a part of that team that everybody was following, everybody was behind.”
Briere signed with the Flyers as a free agent in the summer of 2007 and went on to have continued success in the playoffs. He tallied 30 points (12+18) in a run that ended in loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. After six years in Philadelphia, he spent two more seasons in a veteran role, first with the Montreal Canadiens and then with the Colorado Avalanche.
In 17 NHL seasons, he scored 307 goals and 389 assists for 696 points. He put up an astounding 116 points in 124 playoff games, good for .935 points per game.
Now, with his playing days behind him, he’ll enjoy the moment before deciding what’s next.
“I’m having a chance to learn the business side of hockey with the Flyers. I live right around the corner so it’s a great opportunity,” Briere said. “I don’t know where it will take me, but at this point it’s like I said a great opportunity to have and to try and enjoy.”