made his NHL debut just under a month ago. Tonight marks another first for the 27-year-old, who will be in the lineup against older brother Brian and the Montreal Canadiens.
Though they shared three seasons together with the Devils organization, this will be the first time they’ve ever played in the same organized game at any level.
“A chance to be able to play against Brian will be an exciting thing, something we’ll be able to share together,” Gionta said this morning.
Four years apart (Brian is 31), both spent four seasons at Boston College. Brian was drafted by the Devils in the third round of the 1998 Draft, hoisted the 2003 Stanley Cup and set a franchise record with 48 goals in 2005-06. He signed with Montreal in 2009 and earned the Canadiens' captaincy this season.
Stephen was never drafted and signed with Albany (AHL) in 2006. He has spent four-plus seasons with the Devils’ top minor-league affiliate where he has also worn the “C.” He played his first NHL game on Nov. 5 against the Rangers.
They never suited up together as Devils, but this is pretty special, too.
“When I was here, I hoped that I’d get into a game with him,” Gionta said. “Now that he’s moved on, the next best thing is playing against him. Hopefully, it’ll be a good one tonight.”
The younger Gionta doesn’t have his older brother’s offensive talents, but plays the smart defensive game that’s so important for his fourth-line role.
“Stephen’s played well,” said head coach John MacLean. “He’s been doing a lot for us, he does his job, he kills penalties for us.”
Gionta, who wears the familiar No. 14 jersey, assured reporters that he won’t be running around the ice looking to throw a big hit on Montreal’s No. 21. Their parents and a cousin have tickets to the game.
“I’m not going to change anything just because he’s out there,” he said. “We’re still looking for the two points, and I think that’s the most important thing tonight.”
Jamie Langenbrunner will return to the lineup after missing eight games (neck), meaning a lineup change had to happen. As it turns out, Alexander Vasyunov will sit. But MacLean had Gionta in suspense until this morning.
“It should be a lot of fun tonight,” Gionta said.