Daniel Briere has four goals with Montreal. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Former Sabres star Daniel Briere transitioning into new role with Canadiens

BUFFALO – This is a new phase for Daniel Briere, the popular former Sabres superstar. At 36 years old, the diminutive forward’s clearly on the downside of his career. These days, he’s no longer the guy, just one of the Montreal Canadiens’ secondary players.

But there are still flashes of the old slick Briere. Since returning from a concussion Nov. 12, he has three goals in seven games, including two in the last four.

Briere’s even earning some top-line duty again as a winger with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.

“It’s been a little bit of a slow start,” Briere said Wednesday prior to the Canadiens’ 3-1 win against the Sabres inside the First Niagara Center. “But lately, since I’ve been back from the injury, I feel good on the ice. I feel a lot more confident than I did before. My head’s cleared also.”

Concussions nearly derailed Briere’s career. He had one in 2011-12, the same season he endured a 23-game goal drought. Last season, after suffering a wrist injury playing in Germany during the NHL lockout, he was concussed in March.

By then, it was clear Philadelphia would buy the graying veteran out during the offseason. Briere signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Habs on July 4.

“It’s pretty cool,” the Quebec native said. “I grew up cheering for the Montreal Canadiens. So, yeah, it’s a little special personally to wear that uniform playing some games, having a lot of people around, friends around in Montreal. So I try to enjoy every moment of it.”

Briere was concussed again just eight games into his Montreal tenure and missed 10 contests.

At that point, he had one goal and was skating on the fourth line occasionally, clear signs his role had changed.

“There’s good and bad in everything, and I try to see the positive side of it, try to work with experience, I guess,” Briere said. “But playing on such a young team, too, you can feed off of their energy, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While the Canadiens field a youthful lineup, the rebuilding Sabres are even younger.

Briere, who wasn’t re-signed by the Sabres following a 95-point season in 2006-07, said he’s “excited” about the Sabres’ recent hiring of Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey operations and Ted Nolan as interim coach.

“I’m sure it’s pretty exciting for Sabres fans,” said Briere, who said he liked the Sabres’ previous regime. “Having Pat around, I know personally, too, it would be pretty cool to have a chance to play for him.”

Growing up, the undersized LaFontaine “was one of my favorites,” Briere said.

“I tried to emulate the way he plays and the way he carries himself off the ice, too,” Briere said. “I think that’s impressed me about Pat. I know this franchise is in very good hands with him.”

Briere called bringing back a popular former coach who hadn’t been in the NHL since 2008 “very cool.”

“He’s been in hockey,” Briere said about Nolan. “He’s coached here and there, different places. So I’m sure he’s kept active. The game has changed. But I’m sure he has also. I think it’s a good thing. From what I’ve heard, he was very well-liked when he coached here by the players. So it’s good to have a guy like that back in the NHL.”

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