|5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
165 lb (75 kg)
|Born||October 21, 1949
Shawinigan Falls, PQ, CAN
|Died||April 13 1971 (aged 21),
Montreal, PQ, CAN
|NHL Draft||26 overall, 1969
|Pro Career||1969 – 1970|
Michel Brière (October 21, 1949 – April 13, 1971) was an NHL hockey player whose career was cut short due to an automobile accident in 1970.
Briere 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, Briere was a dominant force, scoring 129 goals, 191 assists, and 320 points in 100 games.
"He asked for a bigger bonus and said, 'I'm going to be here for 20 years.."
——Jack Riley, The first General Manager of the Penguins , detailing the contract negotiations with rookie Michel Briere before the 1969-70 season
During his first/only NHL season, Briere would be a core component to the Penguins as they went to the 2nd 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 Briere would be a top NHL star for years to come. Briere 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.
He raised his game in the playoffs, leading the team in scoring with eight points. Briere netted the first overtime goal in franchise history on April 12, 1970. Briere 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 just two victories short of the Stanley Cup final, losing to St. Louis in the semifinals.
Briere finished the playoffs with five goals, including three game-winning goals, and was named the Penguins' rookie of the year.
Briere returned to Quebec to marry his childhood sweetheart Michele Beaudoin. Briere and Beaudin, who had a 1-year-old son, Martin, were to be married on June 6, 1970.
Tragedy struck at 9 p.m. on May 15, 1970 when Briere was involved in a single-car crash with two friends.
Briere was ejected from his Orange 1970 Mercury Cougar along Highway 117 in Val-d'Or just 70 miles from his hometown of Malartic, Quebec. The Pens' rookie suffered major head trauma. Briere was flown 300 miles by government plane to Notre Dame Hospital in Montreal where Dr. Claude Bertrand, a leading Canadian neuro-surgeon, performed the first of four brain surgeries and delivered his prognosis that Briere has a 50-50 chance of living.
While Briere was hospitalized, the Penguins started pre-season conditioning near Brantford, Ontario. Then-trainer Ken Carson added Briere's name to the back of a jersey. The jersey, along with Briere's equipment bag, traveled with the team for the 1970-71 season.
Ten months later Briere 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, Briere died at 4:20 p.m. on April 13, 1971.
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's Cathedral in Pittsburgh in which most of the team officials and some players attended.
Briere's number 21 was not retired immediately by the team, but no one ever wore it again. A framed jersey hung in the Igloo Club (inside the Pittsburgh Civic Arena) with his photo. That was the only visible sign the number was retired.
"No one ever asked to wear that number (21). If they had, I would have told them Mike's story."
——Ken Carson, Penguins equipment manager telling about the "unofficial" retirement of Michel Briere's number
Briere and Mario Lemieux are the only two players in Penguins' history to have their numbers retired. Briere's number was officially retired on January 5, 2001; just nine days after Lemieux returned to once again wear his number 66.