When the Montreal Canadiens arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon, Danny Briere didn’t go to the hotel with the rest of his teammates. He went home.
The night before he returned to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since the season started, Briere slept in his own bed. He had dinner with his three sons, relaxed in the house he still owns in Haddonfield, N.J.
It was a date he had circled on his calendar since signing with the Canadiens in July.
“I took [Wednesday] to kind of take a step back,” Briere said, “and spend time with family and friends and live the way I was last year at home.”
After spending six seasons in a Flyers uniform, it was strange to Briere bypass the Flyers’ locker room for the visitor’s. But, he said, seeing the “familiar faces and people that I’ve had a lot of good times with over the years” was a great feeling -- despite the fact that he arrived at the Center as a member of the opposition.
He’s a Canadien now (he signed a two-year deal over the summer), but as Briere has said repeatedly since he left the Flyers, Philadelphia is still his home. It always will be, long after his hockey career has come to an end.
The fans have been listening.
Signs expressing love for Briere peppered the crowd, and when a tribute video to the ex-Flyer played on the big screen during the Flyers’ 2-1 victory, coaches and players on both benches gave him an ovation, as did everyone else in the arena.
Briere had plenty of highlights while with the Flyers, but his legacy with the team surely will be what he accomplished in the playoffs. For his entire career, he’s averaged a point per game in the postseason. With the Flyers, Briere registered an impressive 72 points in 68 games.
He’s finally starting to feel comfortable in Montreal, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to contemplate what he’ll be remembered for as a Flyer. There’s still too much hockey left for him to play, he said.
“It’s something I’ll probably look back on when I’m done playing,” Briere said. “At this point, it’s not a time to think about what you’ve done in the past. You always want to be better in the moment, and basically that’s what I’m focusing on now. Once you start looking back at what you’ve done, I think that’s when you get in trouble a little bit.”
Besides, he’s starting to come into his own with the Canadiens. After a rough start to the season, and the concussion he suffered Oct. 19, Briere has 10 points in 22 games. He didn’t make the stat sheet in his return to Philly, but he feels as though he’s made progress in his game from last year, arguably the worst season of his career.
“What I try to tell myself is that everybody has a bad season, bad stretches here and there,” he said. “You can’t dwell on that. You’ve got to move on. You try to jump out of it and get back on track. It was, personally, a rough start in Montreal, not the start that I expected, and then the injury.
“But since then, it’s been going a lot better. So things are starting to turn. I feel much better on the ice. Hopefully it keeps going in the same direction.”
Briere has hit a fortunate stretch. He’ll be back in Philadelphia in just a couple of weeks when these two teams meet again Jan. 8, and he’ll get to spend the NHL’s Olympic break in February back home, too.
It’s a relief for Briere, who was appreciated as much in Philadelphia for his on-ice contributions as he was for the person he is off ice. Briere, usually with his sons in tow, was a staple at charity events as well as the region’s hockey rinks.
Not being able to have that experience has been the toughest part of having his contract bought out. The Flyers handled that with nothing but class, Briere said. But he misses being truly at home here -- at his home -- with his family.
“When I see [my kids], it seems they get taller and bigger every time,” he said. “They’re at the age where they’re changing so much, being teens. That’s the tough part being away. Sometimes you feel a little responsible for not being there full time. But they’ve been really good.
“They get it, and they’re really good kids, I have to give them that.”
-- Sarah Baicker, CSNPhilly.com