Brian Gionta played his 1,000th NHL game Monday night against the Florida Panthers. The 38-year old has enjoyed a successful and long career playing with the New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens and now his hometown team Buffalo Sabres. Gionta is one of the more respected players in the game. Not only was Monday night a big night for Gionta, but his teammates felt how significant of a milestone it was as well.
The 5’7″ winger who overcame the odds has left an excellent legacy when he does decide to hang up his skates. He accomplished the ultimate goal in the game by winning a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003. His impact on the game of hockey though will be how he’s impacted so many players around the league. As a captain of two franchises, he’s shown players by example how to play the right way.
It was a special night obviously for Brian and his family and one that he richly deserved.
Gionta was a third-round pick of the Devils back in 1998. When he entered the league in the 2001-02 season a lot of people didn’t believe he would last long in the NHL. “We doubted him for sure” said longtime contributing writer for the Devils for The Hockey Writers Dan Rice. Gionta would score 12 goals the following season in his first full season with New Jersey. Then after that, he would score at least 20 goals per season for the next five years. Including setting the Devils franchise record that still stands today with 48 goals in the 2005-06 season. A record that Rice said, “is shocking kind of with some names that came after him.” Names like Scott Gomez, Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Gionta signed a five-year $25 Million contract with the Montreal Canadiens in the summer of 2009. While in Montreal, he became the second American-born captain for the Canadiens. He was a great choice and was not a surprise to take over as the leader of his hockey club at the time. He learned how to be a true professional while in New Jersey with some of the great leaders in the game that he played with.
No surprise he became a captain after he left. Learned how to be a pro starting with Pat Burns, Scotty Stevens, Niedermayer, Brodeur, Lemaire and Johnny Madden…
Fast forwarding back to the present the atmosphere in what was a pretty meaningless game between two teams out of the playoff picture, had a buzz in the air. Gionta’s teammates wanted to win that game badly for their captain. They wanted to show him how much they admire him by playing to the best of their ability. Sabres winger Marcus Foligno said, “it was tremendous to be a part of it and a big night.”
Foligno is one the players that Gionta has had a big impact on during his time in Buffalo. The 25-year old struggled with consistency throughout his career but has really stepped up this season for the Sabres. Some of that turnaround for Foligno is tied to the leadership of Gionta. Foligno talked about after the game against Florida what made him a great leader. Saying “it’s the simple thing, just the way he works, his work ethic and professionalism he brings to the rink every day.”
When he talks you shut up and listen to a guy like that.
In typical Gionta fashion, the 15-year veteran scored the winning goal in the game as well. He waited out Panthers goaltender James Reimer and then put it in the net off of the hand of Panthers defender Jason Demers. “When he scored the goal, half our bench jumped like it was a playoff goal,” said Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) March 28, 2017
After completing his 1,000th game with a 4-2 victory, Gionta described the pregame ceremony as emotional and talked about how he usually likes to remain in the background saying “I’m just a humble kid from western New York.” He described the jitters he had in the first few shifts but was able to calm himself down. He also talked about how his teammates were very supportive, including wearing custom made t-shirts under their equipment honoring him. Gionta said “that’s what makes this game special. Is being day in and day out in the battles, in the trenches with these guys.”
Gionta deserved all of the accolades he received last night. He’s still a productive player in the league because of the way he plays the game. He intends to play beyond this season and the Sabres would likely welcome him back. As a fan of the game, you root for true professionals like Gionta. He does what it takes to be productive, win hockey games and plays for the crest on the front of his sweater. I think Dan Rice summed Gionta up best by saying he’s “all heart.”
"It's an honor to play one game. To play 1,000 is incredible."
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) March 27, 2017