Amid the chaos, Danny Briere was as cool as a cucumber.
He sat at his stall inside Boston’s TD Garden, quietly removing his gear. He couldn’t really move because the throng of reporters and cameramen were surrounding his teammate, Simon Gagne, who had just scored a pair of goals in a playoff game as the Flyers staved off elimination for the second straight game in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Stranded at the back of that throng, unable to hear a damn thing Gagne was saying, I was just happy to have been able to stretch my arm out as far as it could go so that my recorder could pick up whatever the hell Gagne was saying.
But, from my position, I was all but infringing on Briere’s space. I kept looking down, to make sure I didn’t accidentally step on any of his equipment. He got his skates off, and sat back, took a deep breath, took a swig of water or Gatorade, before finally looking up and catching my eye.
I was intending to tell him I was sorry for being in his way. But that wasn’t his focus. Instead, he flashed me a wry smile and said, “What did I tell you?”
I smiled back, nodded and said, “You’re halfway there Danny.”
He said, “Yeah, but we know we’re further than that – and they do too.”
They, of course, were the Boston Bruins. They had built a 3-0 series lead on the Flyers. To the rest of the hockey-watching world, there was no chance the Flyers would come back and win four-in-a-row.
But there was one guy who believed – it was Danny Briere.
At the practice the day between Games 3 and 4, Briere and I were talking. He explained to me that he felt the team was still playing well enough that they could come back and win the series. I looked at him with my “are you serious” face and he confidently replied.
“We’ve been the better team,” he said. “We’ve been a little unlucky. But if we keep playing this way, we’re going to win this thing.”
I was perplexed. I’d heard of players making predictions or guarantees before, but predicting a comeback from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series? It had only happened three times EVER in North American professional sports before that. This was crazy.
But Briere was confident. He knew where he and his team were headed. He was the best player in those 2010 playoffs and when you are as locked in as he was, you have a greater feel for everything around you.
So, it was at that moment. When Briere looked up at me in that cramped visitor’s locker room and said, “What did I tell you?” that was when I first knew that Briere was one of those people who always had a good handle on things.
It’s one of those unmeasurable qualities that makes the difference between just being good at what you do and being great at what you do.
Briere had always been second-guessed. He was too small. He wasn’t fast enough. He could never be a productive player in the NHL.
He proved everyone wrong.
And it wasn’t just because he was a highly skilled player, but rather his meticulous approach to his job to be the best he could possibly be.
The Flyers, as you know, went on to win that series – in dramatic fashion in Game 7 no less, with Briere scoring the tying goal after the team trailed 3-0 in the first period.
After the game, I shook his hand. I had to. I had never seen anything like it so up close and personally, and odds are I never will again.
But I’ll never forget that Briere told me it was going to happen – because he had a great feel of the situation at hand.
I spent nearly 650 words telling you that story just to tell you this one:
Danny Briere has taken in his surroundings and is now pushing ahead with confidence in the next phase of his life.
Briere is now the Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Maine Mariners of the East Coast Hockey League.
The Mariners aren’t playing this year. They used to be the Alaska Aces, but were folding the tent in America’s 49th state before Comcast-Spectacor came in and purchased them and decided to move them to Portland, Me.
It was at that point that they had to start putting together a team. And Flyers President Paul Holmgren and COO of Business Operations Shawn Tilger had an idea of where to start.
“Homer had the idea,” Tilger said. “But it really made sense. Danny grasps things really quickly and was able to put all the business pieces together. It came mostly from his willingness to just hang around and learn. At the beginning, it wasn’t even in a paid capacity. He just wanted to really learn the business. We opened all our books to him, he sat in on all of our meetings and it was mutually beneficial, because we also learned a lot from him in terms of what he experienced in other markets and how he saw things from a player’s perspective.”
In short, Briere created his own internship. And now he’s in charge of running a professional hockey team. In the span of two years he went from recently retired player to building a team from scratch.
But if you know Briere, you never would have doubted he could do it.
“When I retired, Paul approached me to see if there was a way to keep me in the organization,” Briere said. “He knew this was something I was always interested in, so he gave me the chance to spend time with him and Shawn and their staff. It was pretty amazing. Everyone was so receptive and willing to help me because to be honest, those first few meetings everything was way over my head.”
Briere said some things still are a little above him, but he’s learning every day, and he’s taking it in like a sponge.
“When you’re a player, you don’t realize just how much work goes into making the Flyers play a game at night,” Briere said. “I just assumed a couple people would sell a few tickets, they get some ushers and a concessions staff and they everyone would have a few beers, sodas and popcorn and we’d just play.
“I never realized just how much work was needed just to give players a chance to play at this level. It was really eye-opening at the amount of people are needed to make this work. My meetings used to be about power plays and the goalies we were playing. Now I’m worried about services, and finances, ticket sales, advertising and marketing. It’s so different.”
Briere said he finds all the aspects of business cool, but that if he had to pick one area that he likes the most it’s the financial side of things. He said he’s leaned a lot on Flyers chief financial officer Angelo Cardone to help him learn all the financials that go into the day-to-day operation of running a team.
“It was something I needed to learn and I still need to ask Angelo questions now that we’re starting the Mariners from scratch,” Briere said. “Adam Goldberg is the vice president of business operations for the team and he’s up in Maine and I’m learning a lot from him as well.”
Since last summer, everything has been focused on the business side of things, but now Briere is getting started working on the hockey side of things. He said that’s an exciting step as well, because it’s something he’s always wanted to do as well.
“I still have a passion for the game,” Briere said. “There’s not much we can do at this point roster-wise, obviously, but we’ve been interviewing a few potential coaches and we’ve been talking to teams about potential affiliations as well. But, as the ECHL season winds down, we need to really prepare, because by mid-June we have to start signing players.”
Over the course of the final months of the season Briere and whoever his coach will be will be doing some scouting and recruiting to get the players they need to make the Mariners competitive.
“At that level there isn’t a big staff. We don’t have scouts. It’s going to fall on the coach and assistant coach and me.’’
Briere started thinking about this future in hockey management over the last few years of his playing career. He said he always wanted to be a manager on the hockey operations side of things, but once he realized how big and important the business side is, and now realizes he loves that more and more every day.
“I’m hoping that moving forward I can stay involved on both the hockey side and the business side,” Briere said. “I think it will be beneficial for me as I move forward here.”
And moving forward could lead to a quick rise up the ladder for Briere if the Mariners prove successful. Tilger thinks Briere has what it takes to be a successful leader.
“He’s running the show up there,” Tilger said. “We meet about things, but he’s doing everything. He seems like he’s having a lot of fun. Right now it’s all about making Portland as successful as possible. But, in terms of his growth, as we grow and evolve as a company, I’m sure Danny’s going to be a big part of the process, not just here in Philadelphia, but in every other part of the country.”
And the timing is right for Briere. His sons are older now. Two are playing junior hockey. He got to spend a couple years at home with them as they reached this stage and now he’s ready to do whatever he has to do, whether it’s here in Philadelphia, in Portland, or somewhere else.
And while he’s at it, Briere is making an impact on some French-Canadian youth as well.
What most people in Philadelphia don’t know is Briere has written a book. It’s an autobiography titled “Mister Playoffs.’’
Right now it’s only available in French in Quebec where Briere grew up. But, it’s coming soon to English – and you can bet it’ll be a best seller for Flyers fans.
“There’s not a lot of books on hockey players and how they made their way that are written in French,” Briere said. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to do it. The other was to help kids who are dreaming about having a pro career in hockey and their parents – because there are no books that tell you what should be done and what steps to take to try to get there. They don’t know what they might run into along the way.”
And Briere added that it’s funny, but that in his new career, he doesn’t know what he might run into on the way either, but he feels like his career in hockey prepared him for it.
Knowing how Briere prepares, knowing his passion, knowing his ability to assess a situation and respond to it, there’s no doubt he will find success both with his book – and his new career as a hockey executive.