Today we are taking a look at Penguins Player that may be more Legend to some than man.
Take a couple of minutes and get to know the man behind the number.
Before his untimely death, Michel Briere was well on his way to becoming the “Pride” of Pittsburgh. He was in the midst of setting the league on fire in his rookie campaign posting 12 goals, 32 assists in 76 games (He would be named the Penguins Rookie of the Year that season) drawing comparisons to a couple of other hot shots named Esposito and Hull.
Briere appeared ready to accept the role of “Franchise” Player, a move that appeared to be welcomed by the organization and player alike.
Pittsburgh was looking for someone to drum up attendance and they appeared ready to hitch the wagon right onto Briere’s back.
Jack Riley on contract negotiations with Briere. "When we tried to sign him, he wanted more bonus money." The extra money was an additional $1,000 on top of the basic $5,000 offered as a signing bonus. "It's not really that much extra money, because I'll be playing for the Penguins for the next 20 years" Riley recalled Briere telling him.
He got the Bonus.
I will admit, it was a pretty gutsy move for an small bodied, untested rookie, taken in the third round of the draft to make a demand like that.
That was Briere in a nutshell, he said what meant and meant what he said.
Briere was still acclimatizing himself to his surroundings in January of 1970, confessing “The streets here are very confusing, there are three rivers and the streets go up, down and all over the place”. Often, he elected just to park at the Civic Arena and walk to his destination.
It is safe to assume Pittsburgh was much more “urbanized” than the streets of Malartic, Quebec, his home.
Briere had an interesting opinion of Pittsburgh, suggesting Pittsburgh was “Dirty, dishonest and lacking in girls” (According to Penguin Alumni Derek Sanderson “Pittsburgh had some of the ugliest girls in the league”, amongst its population) Briere added “Marriage is good for hockey players”. (He was set to get married in the summer and at the time was the only Bachelor on the team.)
His appearance away from the rink did not match the wizardry and flashiness he displayed on the ice. Electing to wear faded and tattered clothing, eating at middle class restaurants and living an unassuming life away from the rink.
Briere was “adopted” by a Pittsburgh family that the Penguins placed him with, paying them 25 dollars a week for his accommodations.
One of the first things Briere bought with his NHL level pay cheque was an orange and black “super car” with a spoiler.
That car was a 1970 Mercury Cougar.
The Mercury Cougar that less than a year later would be involved in the single vehicle accident that would claim his life. (After multiple surgeries and 11 months in a coma.)
Briere on his new wheels, “I had no car or driver's licence before I came here, so the insurance company people got worried when I bought this car, with this big engine. So I am driving without insurance.”
One can only imagine what impact Briere would have had on statistical side of the game had his life not ended so tragically. Such promise, such poise, such energy would have surely left a mark in the pages of the Penguins record books.
During the 1970-71 season, the team travelled with Briere's Jersey and Equipment bag.
His Spirit lives with us to this day. Just look to the sky (his number was officially retired on January 5th 2001) the next time you are in the Consol Energy Center and share some tears with the #21 watching over the current crops of Penguins.
Rest In Piece - Michel Briere