Brian Gionta makes his return to Olympic ice, 12 years after he played at the 2006 Torino Olympics when both the U.S. and Canada failed to win a medal in men’s hockey. The veteran will lead Team USA in PyeongChang as team captain, a role he is quite qualified to play, having worn the “C” in seven of his 16 NHL seasons, including four years as the 28th team leader for the storied Montreal Canadiens.
With a U.S. roster devoid of NHL All-Stars, Gionta will try to get the U.S. back to the Olympic podium after the pros were shut out in the bronze medal game by Finland, 5-0, in Sochi four years ago.
Brian Gionta grew up in a middle-class family in Rochester, New York. Gionta’s mother would enroll Brian and his brother Joe in skating lessons to keep them busy during the long, dark, cold and snowy Western New York winters. Once they found their footing on the ice, the Gionta brothers picked up hockey sticks, playing together on the same team as kids. Brian’s first goal came in the last game of his very first hockey season on a 2-on-none breakaway, where Joe passed him the puck, picking up the assist.
Team USA experience
Gionta has played for USA Hockey at the World Juniors and World Championships, prior to starting his NHL career, dating back to 1998. A fourth place finish at the 2001 World Championships was the best result for any of his teams.
Gionta was picked in the third round, 82nd overall, of the 1998 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils as he was preparing to enter his freshman year at Boston College.
After two seasons with the Golden Eagles, Gionta made the move to the pros, debuting first in the AHL with the Albany River Rats in 2001. By December, the three-time Hobey Baker Award finalist was called up to play for the Devils in his first NHL start on December 30, 2001 against the Edmonton Oilers.
Gionta made a name for himself in the NHL through a scrappy attacking style of play. Almost always the shortest player on the roster, his grit is what allowed him to overcome any deficiencies he had in size.
During his 2002-03 season with the New Jersey Devils, Gionta earned a spot for his name on the Stanley Cup after the Devils beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in seven games.
In 2009, Gionta – then a free agent – was picked up by the Canadiens. The following year he was named the team’s 28th captain. Asking for more than Montreal was willing to pay as his five-year contract was set to expire, the Canadiens allowed Gionta to walk. He found a new NHL home near his childhood home when he signed on with the Buffalo Sabres for the 2014-15 season.
Appropriately, it was in Buffalo on March 27, 2017 that Gionta played his 1,000th NHL game. An event that led to the social media hashtag #G1000NTA.
At the end of the 2017 season Gionta had played in 1,006 career games and scored 588 points (289 goals, 299 assists). The only thing he didn’t have was an NHL contract. The Sabres had moved on, and unwilling to uproot his family at this stage in his career, Gionta decided to make a play to return to the Olympics after news broke that the NHL was going to sit 2018 out.
Gionta owns the school record for goals at Boston College, which still stands at 123. Gionta also holds the Golden Eagle career record for hat tricks, with nine.
The thought of my kids watching me play in the Olympics, it just gave me chills.
Gionta played in his only Olympics in Torino in 2006. In that tournament both Canada and the U.S. fell well short of the podium, finishing in seventh and eighth place respectively. For his part,Gionta scored four goals in six games, but the U.S. only came away with a record of 1-3-1.
Outside the rink
Gionta says it was his devotion to his family which led him to remain a free agent for the 2017-18 NHL season, effectively making him eligible for the Olympic roster. Gionta married his high school sweetheart, Harvest, and the couple now have three children, Adam, Leah and James. Adam, the eldest, was just six months old when his dad made his first Olympic appearance in Torino.