While Dany Heatley, Ryan Smyth, and Sean Burke are getting much of the credit for Canada's perfect 3-0 start to this year's World Championships, it is Daniel Briere who has played brilliantly well in the shadows of these larger figures. Centering a line with Heatley and Patrick Marleau, it was Briere who scored the winning goal in the key game against Sweden and set up the insurance goal in the third by winning a faceoff cleanly.
"It's been amazing playing with those guys," he said after practise today. "All I'm trying to do is take advantage of the opportunity. It's not every day I get a chance to play with guys who are stars in the NHL."
Briere is a star in his own right, though, and he brings qualities to the line which have made it the top-scoring threesome on the team. In fact, they have scored six of Canada'shandlers," Briere observed, "so I just try to bring a little more speed to the line. They're going to make things ha 12 goals and recorded 12 scoring points. "They're both good skaters and stickppen, so I'm trying to get open for them. I know if I do, the puck is going to come to me. It's been going really well the last couple of games."
Briere was one of the first players to be invited to play for Canada this year, in part because his NHL team, Buffalo, was never in contention down the stretch to make the playoffs. "My GM in Buffalo, Darcy Regier, kind of gave me a few hints that they would call and I should start thinking about it." He did, and didn't hesitate to accept.
Canada's GM Steve Tambellini knew exactly what Briere could bring to the team. "He (Tambellini) said that with my speed I could really help on the bigger ice. At the time I got the call, I didn't know many of the guys who would be here, but the response has been great and everyone who is here has been happy and honoured to be here playing for our country."
Briere is married with three children, but the tried and true 'family excuse' which a good number of players have used over the years to excuse themselves was not one that he felt he could use.
"I think it's a valid reason for some people. I was traded (from Phoenix to Buffalo) and I was gone the last five or six weeks of the season. I didn't see my family at all during that time. I came back home for a week before coming to Finland, so in the last eight or ten weeks I haven't seen much of my family at all. It's tough, but for me having the chance to represent your country could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so you want to take advantage of it."
And he won't be seeing those loved ones in Finland, either. "We have three kids and it's a little too hard to bring them all over to the tournament, but they're watching the games back home on TSN so they know what's going on. My dad is going to come over soon, though, and that's a thrill for him to be at the World Championship and see up close what Team Canada is all about."
What the World Championships are about for Briere has revolved around using that speed and open ice to good effect. He scored a beautiful goal in the third period against Latvia in the team's second game, and against Sweden he was a subtle force playing beside the behemoth Heatley and the skilled Marleau.
The line skated in on Tommy Salo on a 3-on-1 in the second period, and Briere cleaned up on a bit of a messy play by pushing the puck in from the crease to give Canada a 2-0 lead. It turned out to be the game winner, but in the third Briere showed his skills in the faceoff circle when he won a draw cleanly back to Mathieu Dandenault at the point. Dandenault beat Salo with a high slapshot, giving the team some much-needed breathing room with a 3-0 lead (the game ended 3-1).
"The faceoffs have been going well for me here which is important for us because when you get the puck you have so much more room along the boards to make plays It's more important here to start with the puck whenever you can. That's one of the toughest thing about the bigger ice is that it's much harder to forecheck because the wingers have so much more room, so if you have the puck you don't have to worry about that as much."
In the coming games, it might well be Heatley who scores a big goal, but don't be surprised if the pass comes from Briere or if he is the first man to hug his teammate. He's always nearby, doing his thing quietly but effectively.