Senators' Pageau is following in Briere's footsteps

MONTREAL -- The text message brought a smile to Jean-Gabriel Pageau's face.

It was words of encouragement before the playoffs began from his mentor Daniel Briere.

"I saw his text right before I got to the arena Wednesday," Pageau told ESPN.com Thursday. "It gave me a motivational boost."

The Ottawa Senators center didn't score in his team's opening 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens but certainly was noticeable throughout the night, dangerous off the rush, darting in and out of traffic and launching three shots at Canadiens netminder Carey Price that weren't easy to stop.

He'll look to put one past Price on Friday night in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.

The 22-year-old forward has been another important element during Ottawa's 21-3-3 run to make the playoffs, scoring in each of the final three regular-season games to help his team clinch a postseason berth.

What's uncanny in watching him play though is just how much he reminds of a young Briere -- quick hands, good vision, a big heart and the ability to drive the opponent crazy.

Pageau is listed at 5 feet 9, 175 pounds; Briere is listed at 5 feet 9, 174 pounds. Eerie, right?

"We're both small players, both Gatineau [Quebec] natives, a lot of similarities," Briere told ESPN.com by phone Thursday. "We have friends in common, too. And we've had a similar path to the NHL."

Years ago when Briere was playing in Philadelphia and Pageau was a teenager, those common family friends in Gatineau brought the two together, with Pageau traveling to Philly to watch Briere play in the playoffs.

"He used to come and watch me play and now it's the other way around," Briere said. "I'm enjoying watching him play. I'm really proud of him."

For several years, Pageau has eaten up every morsel of advice from Briere.

"He's a real good mentor for me. He's helped me a lot and given me a lot of good advice," Pageau said. "It's been a couple of years now that we've also played hockey together in the summer. He always beats me in scoring but it's fun."

Pageau's face lights up when it's pointed out just how similar his game is to Briere's, especially during the 37-year-old center's younger days.

"He's the style of player that I'd like to be," Pageau said of Briere. "He's a great model for me. He was my idol. I'm trying to follow in his footsteps and to have gotten to know him has made it even more special."

Briere started laughing when recalling their game against each other in January when the Senators were in Denver to play the Avalanche.

"All my teammates wanted to rip his head off," chuckled Briere.

Which, of course, was not lost on Briere, who has spent a career driving the opponent crazy and not backing down from anyone.

"Yeah he was laughing about that," Pageau said of the game in Denver. "We had the chance to have dinner together there, it was nice. I'm just trying to do my job. He told me to keep working hard."

It was two years ago against these same Canadiens that Pageau first burst on the NHL scene, a relative unknown called up from the AHL posting a hat trick in Game 3 and adding two assists in a clinching Game 5 win over the Habs.

It ignited chants to the tune of "Ole, Ole, Ole" but instead "Pageau, Pageau, Pageau," from the crowd in Ottawa. You still hear that from time to time.

But as is often the case for many young players, the fourth-round pick in 2011 (96th overall) regressed a bit the following season, playing only 28 games in the NHL. He began the first few months of this season in the AHL before finally sticking with the big club in the second half, though he was really a victim of the numbers game with the Sens roster as his contract was easier to shift down to the AHL in September.

"It's not always fun and I can't control much of it, but I just needed to keep my head focused," Pageau said. "Daniel Briere talked to me about it, he went through some things too when he was younger trying to break in. He said to just keep working hard.

"But my time down in the AHL has helped me, I grew in confidence offensively, and I think it was a good experience for me today."

Briere, who was once waived early in his NHL career before persevering and becoming a star in Buffalo, credits Pageau for not wavering in his work ethic the past two seasons.

"He's had to show character," Briere said. "Everyone thought he made the team two years ago after those playoffs, but he went back to AHL, had to really stick with it and he did."

Briere says he's a little torn right now watching Ottawa-Montreal since he still has friends such as David Desharnais in the Habs dressing room, as Briere played in Montreal for two seasons before being traded last summer.

But it's clear there's a connection to Pageau that's very important to him.

"He's a guy that's not scared of the big stage, he raises his game when he plays Montreal for example," Briere said.

"He's playing well, it's so much fun to watch him go right now. He's a guy that never quits, always looking to get better. He's got great character."

Sounds like another guy we know who has played 973 NHL games in his career.