MONTREAL – The last thing any athlete wants is to be forced to watch from the sidelines, especially when his team needs him most.
Coming off a season that saw him take part in every one of his team’s 82 games last year, Brian Gionta wasn’t so lucky 2011-12. After seeing his 153-game Iron Man streak snapped in early December with a lower body injury, the Habs captain returned to action on Jan. 8, only to suffer a torn biceps muscle that required season-ending surgery two days later.
“This year was frustrating, more because of our results than my injuries,” offered Gionta, who suited up for just 31 games this season, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2001-02. “I don’t think it’s a secret nobody was happy with how things were this year. Everybody was disappointed.
“When we came into camp our expectations were to make the playoffs and compete for a Stanley Cup,” he added. “Obviously this is the polar opposite of that and it was tough to deal with.”
Looking to bounce back from a slow start to the season when injuries hit, Gionta never had a chance to hit his stride in the second half of the campaign. The proud competitor did what he could to make his return to action as soon as possible, but he ended up running out of racetrack down the stretch.
“My injury requires about four months of rehab and there were still three weeks left to go in my recovery when the season ended. I had just gotten back to the strength-building stage of the process,” described the 33-year-old veteran.
“I felt a little better after I got out on the ice for the last practice of the season before the Leafs game,” shared the second-year captain. “It felt good to be out there on the ice with the guys again and get an idea of how I was progressing.”
His teammates weren’t the only ones who would’ve preferred seeing their captain spend the second half of the season on the ice instead of inside the team clinic. Head coach Randy Cunneyworth felt the void left by his leader’s absence more than anyone.
The year wasn’t an easy one for the Habs bench boss, who did all he could to right the ship after taking over on Dec. 17. While Gionta didn’t want to step on his coach’s toes, he still managed to do all he could to lend a helping hand from the sidelines.
“As you’re going through tough times, everybody is trying to come up with things they can do to help the situation. The coaches did a great job of that,” stressed Gionta, who finished seventh in team scoring with eight goals. “Everyone within the organization tried to turn things around and make it right and we tried things to help out. Unfortunately we could never get that momentum going.”
In addition to finishing up his road to recovery, Gionta will have his hands full this summer as his wife, Harvest, is due to give birth to the couple’s third child in the offseason. Having enjoyed the best year of his career in 2005-06 following the birth of his first son, Adam, the proud father will be hitting the gym with all the motivation he needs thanks to his growing brood.
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.
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