Former Buffalo Sabres star Daniel Briere announced his retirement this week after 17 NHL seasons. Briere will always be a fan favorite in Buffalo, as he was a big contributor in reviving the hockey frenzy in the city. His career took off with the Sabres, and Briere provided the franchise with some of the best moments in the history of the club.
Bringing Back the Fans
On trade deadline day in 2003, the Sabres acquired Briere and a 3rd round pick from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Chris Gratton and a 4th round pick. At the time, Gratton was the centerpiece of the trade and Briere was just starting to come into his own as a former first round pick. In his first full season with the Sabres, the Gatineau, Quebec native scored 70 points and was becoming the star of the team.
The Sabres were on verge of being moved when the NHL took over the team in 2002 and attendance was one of lowest in franchise history that season. Tom Golisano would come in and end up saving the team in 2003. However, then came the 2004-2005 lockout season and the NHL was at perhaps their lowest point. Coming out of the lockout, a Sabres team led by co-captains Chris Drury and Briere, took the league, as well as the city by storm. The arena was sold out on a nightly basis as fans filed in to see the young and exciting team. Briere would end up missing over 30 games in the 05-06 season, but returned in time for the first long playoff run for the Sabres since 1999. In the first playoff game in Buffalo since 2001, Briere scored the game winning goal in double-overtime against the Flyers and the Cinderella Sabres were off on a magical run.
Buffalo would go on to take down top seeded Ottawa in surprising fashion and return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1999 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Briere would come through again in the playoffs for the Sabres in overtime of game six to keep Buffalo alive and force a game 7. The Sabres would end up losing game 7, but the team had captured the hearts of the fan base.
The Final Season
The 2006-2007 season the Sabres went into the season with high expectations and didn’t disappoint. The team started 10-0 and ended up winning the President’s Trophy. Briere had a career year scoring 95 points as he was set to become a free agent in the offseason. The team had become so popular that the Sabres had to set up a waiting list for season tickets that is still going today.
Buffalo would end up losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to Ottawa. We know how the story unfolds from that point on. Briere and Drury would leave in free agency on July 1st, 2007. The franchise couldn’t recover from losing their two stars and fell into a tailspin on the ice that they have finally started to pull themselves out of.
What Briere did for hockey in Buffalo is amazing. He was a huge part of the resurgence in a once hockey frenzy market. Today, Buffalo is known as one of the biggest hot beds for the game in the country. Briere and the 2005 to 2007 Sabres are to thank for setting the foundation for the hockey market Buffalo has become today.