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Gionta glad to be with hometown Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres finished with the NHL's worst record last season. That hasn't kept them from being a desired landing place for free agents.

The Sabres introduced one of those free agents, Brian Gionta, at a press conference Wednesday, one day after signing him to a three-year contract. Gionta was one of five veterans acquired by the Sabres on Tuesday.

"I think there's a lot of excitement," Gionta said. "You bring in a couple guys via either free agency or trade and I think the excitement level has just gotten a lot bigger. You can see it the last day-and-a-half; guys are excited, guys want to be here and guys want to play for the Sabres. That's the first step."

That first step was guided by general manager Tim Murray. The Sabres brought back forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick after trading them to the Minnesota Wild at the NHL Trade Deadline. Buffalo also signed free agent defenseman Andrej Meszaros and acquired Gionta's former Montreal Canadiens teammate, defenseman Josh Gorges, in a trade.

"I think he's going to be a great fit for here," Gionta said of Gorges. "He's a heart-and-soul guy who leaves his heart out on the ice every day and does anything for the team. I think he's going to be a great example for a lot of the young guys here in how to play and the culture that we're trying to institute."

Gorges had a limited no-trade clause, and the Sabres were on his list of teams to which he wouldn't allow a trade. But he changed his mind after hearing about Buffalo's interest in him.

"Obviously I knew my time in Montreal was over so, looking ahead, I wanted to re-evaluate the teams on the list," Gorges said. "I had been looking at Buffalo. I've always had respect for Ted Nolan as a head coach and I think with the new ownership and what they've been doing with that team and the direction that they're heading, I felt like I had a good opportunity to go in there and help grow with a good, young team. I just think it's a good fit for me and my family and we're excited about it."

The theme of liking the direction the Sabres are headed is one that's come up not just with the players but with Murray himself. Since being hired Jan. 9, Murray's approach has been to make Buffalo a destination for players to actively pursue. The moves he made Tuesday show his talk wasn't empty words.

"I think it says something that we were as busy as anybody," Murray said Wednesday. "That we were able to attract players of this caliber to want to come here whether it's for different reasons like I said going into this. … I just think it was a great day for us."

For Gionta, now 35, part of the attraction of signing with Buffalo came from having lived in the region. He grew up in Greece, N.Y., just outside Rochester, and was a Sabres fan as a child. He said coming home and being part of a rebuilding situation felt like the right move.

"We're excited for the chance, myself and my family," Gionta said. "It was a really good day for us yesterday. We like the direction that Mr. Murray is going with the team and obviously [owner] Mr. [Terry] Pegula. We're confident that we can come here and be a part of something big and that our expectation is to come here and field a winning team. I think we're putting the pieces in place and we're excited to be a part of that.

"This was my childhood team growing up and it's a dream to play for them and put on the jersey. I can't wait 'til September comes. We're really excited and we appreciate the opportunity to come here and play."

That kind of attitude may be what attracted the Sabres most of all. But it's the desire to be part of a situation that's looking to build from the ground up that has Gionta most excited.

"Every year brings a new challenge and every year brings something that you're going to learn and you're going to take away from that," said Gionta, who was a member of the New Jersey Devils' Stanley Cup-winning team in 2003 and served as Montreal's captain the past four seasons. "By no means is this a thing where you have all the answers and you come in and have all the answers for young guys.

"You have to grow together as a team and you have to buy into the way and the culture of where the team is going. I think that's the biggest thing and that's the first step is having everyone buying into that culture and jell together and having that team cohesiveness."

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