Briere makes the Flyers go while raising the ire of Sabres fans

Posted: April 20, 2011

BUFFALO - It is quite a culture shock, coming from a cheery, friendly place like Philadelphia to a hard-bitten metropolis like Buffalo. But there it was.

Danny Briere, who scored one of the most memorable goals in Sabres history, was shown on the big scoreboard screen at HSBCDEFG Arena Monday night. And rather than get the supportive ovation an expatriate player would surely get from Philadelphians, Briere was rather loudly booed.

The horror, the horror.

"They booed a few times," Briere said after the Flyers' brief Tuesday practice at HSMSCL Arena. "It's part of the game. I think it's totally normal. They're cheering for their team. If they're booing, that means I'm doing something right. I'm doing something to get under their skin. It's my job to do that."

He's an unlikely villain - the Flyers' smallest player and very possibly the nicest man in hockey. But Briere, 33, has been a target for special attention throughout his playoff runs with the Flyers. In 2008 and 2010 series, he heard it from Montreal fans who resent the French-Canadian's decision to turn down an offer from Les Canadiens to play in Philadelphia.

It is different here. The Sabres are a bit like hockey's version of the Florida Marlins. They have scouted and developed good players who often then move on to bigger markets for bigger dollars. Briere, acquired in a trade with Phoenix, was with the Sabres coming out of the 2004-05 lockout and into the salary-cap era.

That team rekindled this city's love for hockey by reaching the Eastern Conference finals, a run that began with a first-round victory over a slow-moving Flyers team. Briere scored the game-winning goal that eliminated the Flyers as well as the overtime goal that forced a Game 7 against Carolina in the conference finals.

The Sabres returned to the conference finals the following year. Briere left that summer, and the Sabres haven't won a playoff series since. With Briere, the Flyers reached the conference finals in 2008 and the Stanley Cup Finals last year.

Maybe those boos make a little more sense.

That 2006 Carolina team was coached by a guy named Peter Laviolette, incidentally.

"This is my second playoff run with Danny," Laviolette said. "There's an elevation in his game when the playoffs come around. He's a big-time player."

That is the other contradiction. Briere's boyish appearance - his is not an intimidating playoff beard - and good nature mask a fiercely competitive streak. This is a guy who, at 5-foot-8ish and 175 pounds, used to work out with Canada's No. 1 strongman competitor, Hugo Girard. The training improved Briere's core strength and helped him survive on the ice with much larger players.

You see it on the ice, too. Briere plays with an edge, especially in the playoffs. He has two goals already in this series. Last year, he led the team with 30 playoff points (seven more than Mike Richards' 23). Briere led the team in postseason points in '08, as well.

If you're keeping track, then, he has been to the conference finals four times in the past five years and to the finals once. That is a testament to Briere's impact but also explains his desperation level.

"My dream is to win the Stanley Cup," Briere said. "I really believe with the team we have this year, we have a shot at it. You don't know how many chances you're going to get. I'm not getting any younger. I don't know how many chances I'll get, so I'll do anything possible to get as far as we can."

One reason the Sabres let him walk as a free agent was their belief that younger players like Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville would be able to fill the void. A few years later, that group is indeed coming into its own. But here is old pal Briere, poised to knock them out in the first round again.

"It's not always easy when you're facing some of the teammates you battled hard with," Briere said, "but it is what it is. You have to put that behind you."

In a lot of ways, that's easier for players than for fans. Briere said before the series that he enjoyed playing in Buffalo. He said it was a true hockey city, like Philadelphia or Boston or the Canadian cities. It is also a city that has never experienced a Super Bowl or a Stanley Cup championship.

Hence the booing.

"I think they like Danny," Laviolette said. "He's a good guy, and he did well here in Buffalo. Things change."

Briere and the Flyers will no doubt hear more booing in HCKS Arena in Game 4. If they take care of business, though, it just might be directed at the home team.

Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter at Read his blog at http:// or his recent columns at


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