Brian Gionta, on and off the ice

By on November 26, 2018
Shadowbox with mementos from the Gionta vs. Gionta game when Brian played for the Montreal Canadiens and his younger brother Stephen Gionta played for the New Jersey Devils. The game was played on December 2, 2010. Final score Montreal 5, New Jersey 1. Photo by Karen Fien

Shadowbox with mementos from the Gionta vs. Gionta game when Brian played for the Montreal Canadiens and his younger brother Stephen Gionta played for the New Jersey Devils. The game was played on December 2, 2010. Final score Montreal 5, New Jersey 1. Photo by Karen Fien

by Barbara Burke and Karen Fien

Growing up in Greece, New York, Brian Gionta started playing hockey at a young age. “With three boys in the family my mom was looking for ways to keep us busy during winter. She signed us up for skating lessons. As a result we all played hockey,” Gionta said.

He played travel hockey in the area through age 13, and only one year on the hockey team for his high school, Aquinas Institute, his freshman year. He moved on looking for more competition. During his high school years, Gionta practiced in Syracuse and played in Junior Leagues. “School and hockey, it wasn’t easy. I think it was harder on my parents than on me. I come from a middle class working family. Both my parents worked jobs. It was a tough schedule. They really deserve the credit for supporting me and keeping me going,” he said. Brian is the middle son of Sam and Penny Gionta of Greece.

The hard work and dedication resulted in a record breaking hockey career including 16 seasons with the NHL. Gionta’s NHL career includes a 2003 Stanley Cup Championship with the New Jersey Devils, Captain on both Montreal Canadians and Buffalo Sabres teams. And a brief time playing for the Boston Bruins. Gionta was selected to play on the 2005 and 2018 Winter Olympics USA Hockey Team, in 2018 as Captain.

Brian Gionta with his New Jersey Devils jersey. Photo by Karen Fien

Brian Gionta with his New Jersey Devils jersey. Photo by Karen Fien

In 2001, he captained the Boston College hockey team to an NCAA Championship title, in overtime. It was his senior year, he led the nation with 33 goals that year. He was named 1998 Rookie of the Year, 2001 Player of the Year, and named to All-Star and All-American teams several times.

Brian Gionta announced his retirement from playing professional hockey on September 24, 2018.

Being chosen as Captain on so many of the teams he played on shined a light on Gionta’s strength in leadership skills. “I led by example. I was a smaller guy in the league, (Gionta is 5’ 7”). I always worked for what I got. Growing up in a working family, I was taught values by my parents that I brought with me into hockey. It put me in the position to mentor people, and that’s what I did,” he said.

Gionta’s advice to young hockey players is, “Dream of being a professional, dream of playing in the league and playing in a championship game, and enjoy playing the game, I always enjoyed it. Have fun, keep playing and you will get better. Whatever level you achieve, wherever you end up, you will have learned valuable life lessons by playing the sport,” Gionta said.

Gionta stayed in college for four years and received his degree in Communications from Boston College. “I really felt it was important to plan. You never know, one injury and you are done. I used my smaller size to an advantage. Skating has always been my strong suit. I was able to get quickly in and out of the bigger guys. I developed my quickness for survival, I didn’t want to get hurt,” he said.

Brian Gionta pictured with his wife, three children and his parents at the celebration of his 1,000th NHL hockey game. Provided photo

Brian Gionta pictured with his wife, three children and his parents at the celebration of his 1,000th NHL hockey game. Provided photo

Going to the Olympics was very memorable for Gionta. His first Olympic Games were in 2005, when NHL players could participate while playing in the League. The rules changed over the years and when the USA Hockey Committee called and asked him to participate in the 2018 Winter Games, Gionta signed a practice-only contract with his hometown Amerks and was eligible. In January 2018, before he left for the Olympics, the Amerks upgraded Gionta’s contract to a one day and one game contract. He says playing that game was a “pretty cool” experience.

The Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games are a very special memory for Gionta. His most memorable 2018 Olympic experience was interacting with all the teams. “You get to enjoy it a little more and attend more events. It is a better overall experience. It is your country you are representing and it is a very special honor. My parents and two aunts were in South Korea to support us and watch the team compete. My wife and kids stayed in the US. They watched the games on television. They all had on their USA jerseys. I’m sure when my kids get older they will fully appreciate what an honor playing in the Olympic Games truly is,” he said.

Gionta says playing for his hometown team, the Buffalo Sabres, was “very cool.” “I really could appreciate the game more. Having my family and friends around and at my games really was important.” Playing for the local team provided the opportunity for family and friends to be at Gionta’s 1,000th game, an achievement only 321 hockey players have reached since the game’s inception in 1917. Gionta’s 1,000th game came while playing for the Sabres on March 27, 2017 in Buffalo against the Florida Panthers.

Shadowbox created with mementos from Brian Gionta’s 1,000th NHL Game including his hockey puck and stick and several photos from the game held on March 27, 2017. Photo by Karen Fien

Shadowbox created with mementos from Brian Gionta’s 1,000th NHL Game including his hockey puck and stick and several photos from the game held on March 27, 2017. Photo by Karen Fien

Gionta’s retirement plans are to enjoy family time, to just be with, and travel with his wife Harvest, son Adam, 13, daughter Leah, 10, and son James, 6. He coaches his sons’ hockey teams and attends his daughter’s soccer events. “Watching my kids compete is awesome, it’s so rewarding to be there and see and experience it with them,” he said.

He also has accepted a part time job with the Sabres in player development. He helps with the Amerks in Rochester by supporting the coaches and mentoring the players. “It helps me stay in shape skating and working out with the team,” Gionta said.

Gionta and his wife, Harvest, are active in their communities. They work with several organizations helping kids with special needs and missing and exploited children. They are active with both Buffalo’s Children’s Hospital and Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester.

Gionta said his proudest hockey career accomplishment was to win the Stanley Cup Championship and to last as long as he did in the sport. “I played in over 1,000 professional hockey games, not many players achieve that,” he said.

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