October 21, 1949|
Malartic, Quebec, Canada
|Died||April 13, 1971
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
|Height||5 ft 10 in (178 cm)|
|Weight||165 lb (75 kg; 11 st 11 lb)|
|Played for||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|NHL Draft||26th overall, 1969
Michel Edouard Brière (October 21, 1949 – April 13, 1971) was a Canadian professional ice hockey player for one season in the National Hockey League. Following his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Brière was involved in a car accident in which he suffered major head trauma. After multiple brain surgeries and 11 months in a coma, he died as a result of his injuries at the age of 21.
Brière was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third round of the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft. During his junior career with the Shawinigan Bruins, he scored 129 goals and 191 assists, for 320 points in 100 games. According to the Penguins' general manager Jack Riley, during the contract negotiations with Brière prior to the 1969–70 season "He asked for a bigger bonus and said, 'I'm going to be here for 20 years.."
On November 1, 1969, Brière scored his first NHL goal against the Minnesota North Stars' goaltender Ken Broderick. He would go on to score 12 goals and 32 assists, to finish third in the team scoring with 44 points.
During the quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Brière scored the first overtime goal in Penguins' history on April 12, 1970, by scoring the game-winner, and series clincher, against the Oakland Seals at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena. The sweep of the Seals was also the first playoff series victory for the Penguins' franchise.
While Brière helped lead the Penguins to the second round of the NHL playoffs, the team finished two victories short of the Stanley Cup final, by losing to the St. Louis Blues in the semifinals. During the playoffs, Brière led the team in scoring with eight points, which included five goals and three assists. Three of his five goals were game-winners.
Despite being named the Penguins' rookie of the year, Brière received no votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy, which was won by Chicago Black Hawks' goaltender Tony Esposito. At this time, many scouts were predicting that Brière would develop into a top NHL player. Brière drew comparisons to Phil Esposito and Bobby Clarke, both of whom were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
After the playoffs, Brière returned to Quebec to marry his childhood sweetheart Michele Beaudoin, the couple had a son, Michel. They were to be married on June 6, 1970. However, on the evening of May 15, 1970, Brière was involved in a single car crash with two friends. He was ejected from his orange 1970 Mercury Cougar along Route 117 in Val-d'Or, 70 miles from his hometown of Malartic. Suffering from major head trauma, he was flown 300 miles to Notre Dame Hospital in Montreal, where a leading neurosurgeon performed the first of four brain surgeries. Brière was given a prognosis that gave him a 50–50 chance of living.
Brière was transferred to Montreal's Marie-Clarac Rehabilitation Hospital on March 27, 1971. The Penguins finished the regular season at home on April 4, 1971 and missed the playoffs. Nine days later, after 11 months in a coma, Brière died at 4:20 p.m. Six members of the Penguins, including general manager Jack Riley, equipment manager Ken 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.
Brière was the first of two prominent Pittsburgh athletes to die within a 19-month period. On December 31, 1972, Pittsburgh Pirates' outfielder Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash. Coincidentally, both athletes wore number 21.
While Brière was hospitalized, the Penguins started pre-season conditioning near Brantford. Then-trainer Ken Carson added Brière's name to the back of a jersey, which, along with Brière's equipment bag, traveled with the team for their entire 1970–71 season.
Brière's number 21 was not retired immediately by the team, however no one ever wore it again. A framed jersey hung in the Igloo Club, located inside the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, with his photo, as the only visible sign of the number was retired. According to Carson "No one ever asked to wear that number (21). If they had, I would have told them Mike's story." Brière's number was officially retired on January 5, 2001; just nine days after Penguins' co-owner Mario Lemieux came out of retirement to once again wear his number 66. Brière and Mario Lemieux are the only two players in Penguins' history to have their numbers retired.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League 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