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Taking the torch

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Anyone looking to identify the Canadiens’ newly-minted captain on Wednesday morning could either a) look for the “C” stitched to Brian Gionta’s jersey or b) spot the biggest smile in the room.

“I found out this morning. We sat down and he announced it to the team before practice,” revealed Gionta. “I was surprised. Obviously I was an assistant captain and part of that group last year, but it’s still a surprise to be named captain. It’s the Montreal Canadiens; it’s really special.”

His jersey may now have a different letter of the alphabet adorning it, but the veteran winger has no intention of acting any differently in his new role.
“I don’t expect things will change too much. I showed what it was all about last year. I’m more of a leader by example out on the ice,” admitted the 31-year-old winger. “There’s a good group of core guys on this team that can do the majority of the leading and I think that’s still going to be the case regardless of whether there’s a captain or not.”
An important part of that leadership group galvanized last season, assistant captain Hal Gill knows that Gionta is man for the job.
“Gio is the real deal. He’s an honest guy and what you see is what you get. He’s a small guy but he’s so much bigger than that and means so much more,” lauded Gill. “Sure, voting on a captain is always nice, but in this room I don’t think it would have made a difference, Brian would still be our captain today.”
Gill wasn’t the only one who thinks captain Gionta will prove to be a comfortable pair of slippers for every player in the Habs’ room.
“I don’t think anyone should be surprised that he’s our captain now,” explained Maxim Lapierre. “A captain doesn’t always have to talk to make an impact. Sometimes it’s just a question of remaining calm in a panic situation and then the rest of the group follows. That’s what Gio did for us during the playoffs last year.”
As a rookie thrown directly into the fire last spring, P.K. Subban quickly learned that his teammates would always have his back – especially Gionta.
“He’s a really good leader. Brian doesn’t talk often, but when he does it’s for a reason and everybody listens,” described the 21-year-old defenseman. “His leadership happens on the ice and at this level that’s the most important thing. Anyone can just talk. A leader like Gio does more than that.”
With one season in Montreal now under his belt, Gionta knows he still has more to learn about his adopted home.
“My family and I came here and we’re embracing the culture and enjoying living in Montreal. It’s a great place to be. We’re going to do our best to learn [French]. I can’t make any promises that I’ll be able to speak it fluently, but I’ll try,” admitted the Rochester, NY native. “It’s part of being here whether you’re the captain or not. You want to accept the culture and learn it. We’re in the process of doing that right now and we’ll see how it goes.”
Now the 28th player to captain the Canadiens over the 100-plus year lifetime of the team, Gionta knows that history surrounds him every day he gets up to go to work.
“Anytime you can talk to former Habs players and legends, whether it’s about being captain or just about the history of the game, it’s really special,” offeredGionta. “If you ever have a chance to sit down with Hall-of-Famers like that, you listen and soak all it all in.”
Sounds like the new captain has done his homework.

Manny Almela is a writer for

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