April 13, 2008

Remembering #21 Michel Briere

Sadly, today is the 37th anniversary of the tragic death of young Michel Briere, a promising hockey talent who left this world too soon at the age of 22.

Briere's first NHL goal

A third round selection by the Penguins in 1969 NHL Draft, Briere played just one year in Pittsburgh, scoring 12 goals and contributing 44 points. Many scouts predicted a promising future for the young kid from Quebec. It was the off-season of the 1969-70 season, that his bright light dimmed. From Legends of Hockey:

" However, the dream life turned into a tragic nightmare on May 15, 1970. While driving with two friends near his hometown of Malartic, making preparations for his wedding that summer, the Briere vehicle was involved in a horrific car crash, which threw him clear of the car. The other two occupants survived the crash, but suffered multiple fractures. When emergency crews arrived on the scene, they found Briere unconscious, some distance from the car. "He was in the back seat," Penguins coach Red Kelly recalled. "There wasn't even a mark on him. But he was thrown out, and there was damage to his brain." But there would be yet another tragedy associated with the crash on that fateful rainy evening. On the way to transporting the severely injured Briere to hospital in Val D'Or, the ambulance transporting him struck and killed an 18-year-old pedestrian, a young man by the name of Raymond Perreault of Malartic.

Briere lay in a coma for seven weeks before showing signs of consciousness. The owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Donald H. Parsons, told the Briere family that he would provide lifetime financial security for Briere, if he was unable to resume his hockey career. He remained in a twilight condition, between consciousness and unconsciousness for close to a year and underwent four operations before dying of his injuries on April 13, 1971 at the age of 21."

Briere's #21 jersey was officially retired by the Penguins on January 5, 2001. He and Mario Lemieux are the only retired numbers in Pittsburgh history.

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