Michel Brière : biography
Michel Edouard Brière (October 21, 1949 – April 13, 1971) was an NHL player whose life and career were cut short due to an automobile accident in 1970.
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Brière's retired #21 hanging above the scoreboard at [[Mellon Arena, next to Mario Lemieux's retired #66, in December 2009.]]Brière's retired #21 hanging above the scoreboard at [[Consol Energy Center next to Mario Lemieux's retired #66, in December 2010.]] Brière returned to Quebec to marry his childhood sweetheart Michele Beaudoin. Brière and Beaudoin, who had a year-old son, Martin, were to be married on June 6, 1970.
Tragedy struck at 9 p.m. on May 15, 1970, when Brière was involved in a single-car crash with two friends. Brière was ejected from his orange 1970 Mercury Cougar along Highway 117 in Val-d'Or, 70 miles from his hometown of Malartic. The Pens' rookie suffered major head trauma. Brière was flown 300 miles by government plane to Notre Dame Hospital in Montreal where Dr. Claude Bertrand, a leading Canadian neurosurgeon, performed the first of four brain surgeries and delivered his prognosis that Brière had a 50-50 chance of living. While Brière was hospitalized, the Penguins started pre-season conditioning near Brantford, Ontario. Then-trainer Ken Carson added Brière's name to the back of a jersey. The jersey, along with Brière's equipment bag, traveled with the team for the 1970–71 season.
Ten months later Brière was transferred to Montreal's Marie-Clarac Rehabilitation Hospital on March 27, 1971. The Pens finished the regular season at home on April 4 – a 1-1 tie with St. Louis – and missed the playoffs. Nine days later, after spending the last 11 months in a coma, Brière died at 4:20 p.m. Six members of the Penguins, including Jack Riley, Carson and Coach Red Kelly, attended the funeral outside Montreal. A memorial service was held in St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh which most of the team officials and some players attended.
Brière's number 21 was not retired immediately by the team, but no one ever wore it again. A framed jersey hanged in the Igloo Club (inside the Pittsburgh Civic Arena) with his photo. That was the only visible sign the number was retired.
Brière and Mario Lemieux are the only two players in Penguins' history to have their numbers retired. Brière's number was officially retired on January 5, 2001; just nine days after Lemieux returned to once again wear his number 66.
The QMJHL renamed its MVP award the Michel Brière Memorial Trophy in 1972. The Pittsburgh Penguins also present the Michel Brière Rookie of the Year Award annually to the season's best rookie player
Brière was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third round (#26 overall) in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft. During his junior career with the Shawinigan Bruins, Brière scored 129 goals and 191 assists, for 320 points in 100 games.
During his only NHL season, Brière would be a core component to the Penguins as they went to the second round of the playoffs in the 1969–70 season. He scored 12 goals and 32 assists, finishing third in team scoring with 44 points. At this time, many scouts were predicting that the slightly-built but fast and nimble Brière would be a top NHL star for years to come. Brière was even being compared to the likes of Phil Esposito and Bobby Clarke, who were also young phenoms.
On November 1, 1969, Pittsburgh's rookie center scored his first NHL goal by beating Minnesota North Stars' goaltender Ken Broderick at the 15:15 mark of the third period. In the playoffs, Briere led the team in scoring with eight points. Brière netted the first overtime goal in franchise history on April 12, 1970. Brière scored the game-winner – and series clincher – at 8:28 of the first overtime period against the Oakland Seals in front of 3,028 fans at the Oakland Coliseum. The sweep of the Seals was the first playoff series victory for the Penguins.
The Penguins finished two victories short of the Stanley Cup final, losing to St. Louis in the semifinals.
Brière finished the playoffs with five goals, including three game-winning goals, and was named the Penguins' rookie of the year.
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