Pageau ready to soak in first NHL game

Jean-Gabriel Pageau is ready to suit up with the Ottawa Senators for his first NHL game Thursday night. (Candice Monhollan)

Jean-Gabriel Pageau is ready to suit up with the Ottawa Senators for his first NHL game Thursday night. (Candice Monhollan)

PHILADELPHIA — Walking into head coach Luke Richardson’s office Wednesday after practice with the Binghamton Senators, Jean-Gabriel Pageau thought they were going to discuss strategy for the next game.

To his amazement, he was informed by Richardson he was recalled to the big club – the Ottawa Senators.

“I was real surprised,” Pageau said. “I had no idea. I was a little bit in shock, but after, I was really happy.”

The 20-year-old is only in his first year of pro hockey after being drafted by the Senators in the fourth round (96th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

He has spent the majority of the season with the “Baby Sens” in Binghamton, where he played in 69 games and tallied seven goals and 22 assists.

“I learned a lot,” Pageau said. “I learned to play defense [and] to have more confidence. I had a chance to put up some points. I think I played well and then better and better as the year went on.”

The injury-plagued season the Senators have been experiencing has allowed players like Pageau to move up a level and prove what they can do.

“[He’s] not a player that we expected to have in our lineup necessarily at the start of this year and going into any kind of a training camp,” head coach Paul MacLean said. “The circumstances of the season is another example of a player taking advantage of the opportunity the multiple injuries has presented to our organization.”

Pageau admits he is nervous about the game, but is thrilled at the chance to put on the Senators jersey.

“The coach is giving me the chance tonight to play my first game and I’m really happy about that,” Pageau said. “I can’t wait to play tonight and have fun. The guys were real nice with me this morning, so that took my stress a little bit away.”

Captain Daniel Alfredsson, in his 17th season of the NHL, can still remember what it was like to be in Pageau’s shoes – or skates.

“You’ve been working extremely hard to get to this point and probably been dreaming about since you were a kid,” Alfredsson said. “It’s a great moment and I’m happy for him. I know he’s worked hard and played well down in Binghamton and we’ll hopefully have a good game and can win one for him.”

The team arranged travel for Pageau and drove him Wednesday night to Philadelphia, where, despite a warm room, he was able to get plenty of rest to prepare for the game.

Also traveling to Philadelphia to watch his first NHL game is his family.

“My parents and my uncle will be at the game tonight,” Pageau said. “That should be pretty fun and I’m excited, for sure.”

In the midst of a five-game losing slump, MacLean hopes adding the youngster to the lineup will help reinvigorate the team.

“He brings speed and energy and a competitive spirit,” MacLean said. “He’s grown as a player and has earned the opportunity to be here and have the opportunity to show us he can play at this level. For the most part, it’s the opportunity for him to bring some energy to a group that right now could use some.”

Pageau couldn’t have asked for a better place to play his first game, besides Ottawa, said Alfredsson.

“I think it’s a great building and that’s what you want,” Alfredsson said. “You want the atmosphere. If you play Florida on the road with a half-full building, it’s not as exciting. This is a good place to start.”

However, this isn’t the first time Pageau has stepped foot into the Wells Fargo Center. He was dressed in a Philadelphia Flyers jersey two years ago during the playoffs as a member of the crowd.

The tickets were given to him from a player who is still wearing orange, though currently out of the lineup, making this moment even more unique for Pageau.

Daniel Briere gave me tickets, so it was pretty special,” Pageau said. “My first game here is going to be real special playing against Claude Giroux. I think it’s going to be special tonight against [the Flyers].”

Pageau is familiar with Briere from back home in Ottawa, where the two played hockey together over the summer.

“I play in a league with a few of my friends and we needed a little bit of reinforcement,” Briere said. “I gave him a call to see if he would join us. It was pretty cool having a chance to play with him.”

The two keep in contact with each other during the season and Briere was one of the people Pageau texted once he received the news.

“He texted me to let me know he just got called up,” Briere said. “I am happy for him. I think it’s really cool I get to watch his first game. I wish I was on the ice against him.”

Pageau enjoys the opportunity to communicate with a player like Briere, who he tries to model his game after.

Briere was flattered by the compliment and sees a bright future ahead for Pageau.

“I’m happy to see him here,” Briere said. “It’s well deserved with all the work he’s put in. I think this is the first game of many to come for him in the NHL.”

Despite being the new face in the locker room, Pageau’s teammates have made him feel at home and have worked with him to make sure the nerves don’t get in his way.

Alfredsson believes if Pageau sticks to what got him to this point, he’ll play just fine.

With all the experience he’s gained over the years, the captain had a little tidbit for the rookie for his first game.

“Once the puck drops, it’s just hockey that counts,” Alfredsson said. “It’s pretty easy to block everything else out. Everything leading up to that, he should soak it all in, especially during warm-ups and before the game.”


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Categories: Features, Ice Hockey, NHL, Sports

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