He’s the brooding one, who traded baseball for hockey and shies from a bright spotlight that’s followed him since pitching Trumbull, Conn., to the Little League World Series title in 1989.
Daniel Briere’s the talkative, passionate extrovert. Growing up a French Canadian with only NHL dreams, he plays and speaks as if carrying a persistent chip on his shoulder, the result of spending years being knocked for being only five-foot-nine.
Different in so many ways, yet linked by a competitive drive and the “C” they wear on their jerseys: Call them the yin and yang co-captains of the Buffalo Sabres, unquestioned leaders of one of the best teams in hockey.
“I think you hit it on the way they are,” said defenceman Brian Campbell. “Danny’s pretty fiery. He can get pretty mad. Chris can be a little more even keel. It forms well. They feed off each other.”
Drury and Briere, who represent the two-dimensional face of the Sabres’ gritty resilience and offensive flash, exemplify why Buffalo is off to a league-leading 15-2-1 start. Besides matching an NHL mark by winning their first 10 games, the Sabres had yet to lose on the road and had a record-setting 10-game winning streak away from home.
Yet Buffalo’s hot start barely registers on its co-captains. They greet accolades with shrugs, reminding everyone that this is a team still stinging from losing Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference final to eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina.
“I think we can be as good as we want to be,” Drury said. “But if we, for a minute, start patting ourselves on the back, we’re not going to do much.”
It’s shortly after 11 a.m. when the Sabres’ team meeting breaks. Drury already is making his quick exit out a side door. He’s the early riser, usually among the first players at the arena. And he’s also usually among the first to leave.
No offence, Drury says, but he’s not one for small talk.
“Maybe it goes back to when I was younger. I kind of got thrust into it at a young age,” Drury said, referring to the national attention he and his Little League teammates received. “Maybe that’s why I kind of keep my mouth shut a little bit and just play.”
But Drury’s on-ice performance speaks volumes. Heading into this weekend, he ranked fourth on the team with 18 points (10 goals and eight assists). He plays on both the power-play and penalty-killing units and was second among Sabres forwards with 17 blocked shots.
Briere’s numbers were no less impressive. He led the team with 26 points. Of his eight goals, two came in overtime and he was 3-of-5 in shootout chances.
They centre two different lines, anchoring the team’s balanced attack. And their presence in the locker-room is influential. While Drury rarely speaks, Briere provides a few pep talks.
“It’s good for this team to have two guys like that,” said goaltender Martin Biron. “You look at them and you feel a different vibe. They complete one another in that sense.”
Co-captains since the start of last season, Drury and Briere arrived in Buffalo after following very different paths.
Drury has been pegged with great expectations since he was 12, when he pitched a five-hitter to help Trumbull defeat three-time defending champion Taiwan and become the first American team to win the series since 1983.
He chose hockey over baseball, and won the Hobey Baker award as college hockey’s MVP in 1998 at Boston University. He was the NHL’s rookie of the year the following season with Colorado and, in 2001, helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup.
After a season in Calgary, Drury was acquired by the Sabres in a three-team deal in the summer of 2003.
Briere’s career has been one of perseverance and overcoming questions about whether there’s a place in pro hockey for a forward of his slight stature. There were, however, never any doubts about his offensive skills.
In 1995-96, Briere led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 163 points (67 goals, 96 assists). Three years later, he was the American Hockey League rookie of the year, but still had difficulty cracking the Phoenix Coyotes’ lineup.
Despite a solid season in 2001-02, in which he had 32 goals and 60 points with the Coyotes, Briere was considered a one-dimensional player. Phoenix traded him to Buffalo the following year.
Drury and Briere arrived in Buffalo four months apart, shaping the core of a troubled franchise that was emerging from bankruptcy and searching for an identity after the departures of Dominik Hasek and former captain Michael Peca.
Sabres manager partner Larry Quinn said the trades turned out better than expected.
“We acquired Danny for his offensive capabilities and not necessarily his leadership. That was an added package,” Quinn said. “And with Chris, I think his offensive ability was the added presence.”
The personal differences aren’t lost on Drury and Briere.
“With his size growing up, I couldn’t imagine the stuff he’s heard or what scouts have said about him,” Drury said of Briere. “I’m a fan of Marty St. Louis and Danny Briere, guys who have overcome a lot of the knocks because of their size and are now stars of the league.”
Briere has respect for what Drury went through.
“What I can’t imagine is going through his life as an American hero. All of his life, how he’s had to deal with that pressure,” Briere said. “For me, it’s an honour to be a captain with him. The way I see it, we complement each other really well.”