Being a captain isn't all that new to Brian Gionta
, but wearing the storied "C" of the Montreal Canadiens
trumps all other things.
On Wednesday, Gionta was named the 28th captain in Canadiens history, joining a list of Hall of Famers that includes Doug Harvey
, Maurice Richard
, Jean Beliveau
, Yvan Cournoyer
and Bob Gainey.
"It's quite an honor, I'm real excited by it," Gionta said. "All the names, all the guys, the Hall of Famers -- it's pretty special."
Gionta, who served as an alternate captain last season, said he doesn't plan on altering anything in how he goes about his business on or off the ice.
"I don't think things will change too much," he said. "You guys saw what it was like last year. I'm more a leader by example on the ice. There's a good group of core guys on this team that can do a majority of leading and I think that's still going to be the case, regardless of if there's a captain or not. There's a group of core guys that lead the team."
Part of that group will be defensemen Hal Gill
and Andrei Markov
, each of whom will serve as alternate captains.
"It's a tremendous honor and I'm really happy to do that again," Gill said. "We have a great leadership group on this team and we're going to need everyone on this team to be a leader. That's what makes this team good, we do have a lot of leadership. It's not just one guy, it's not five guys, it's the whole team."
Making Gionta's appointment even more special is the fact that the Rochester, N.Y., native is only the second U.S.-born captain in the storied franchise's history.
"It hasn't really sunk in too much," Gionta said. "My family and close friends will be extremely proud, and I'm proud, too. It's the Montreal Canadiens
-- it's quite an honor."
Gionta easily moved into a leadership position in the Canadiens' locker room last season, his first with the club after signing a five-year contract last July. He had a team-high 28 goals despite playing just 61 games, and he was a huge part of the team's stunning run to the Eastern Conference Finals. His 3 game-winning goals led the team, and his 15 points was second only to Michael Cammalleri
He also became a respected voice in the locker room, easily handling a media crush that includes English- and French-speaking press. He also said he's taking French language classes to better handle the media.
"Obviously, we came here, my family and I, and we're embracing the culture," Gionta said. "We enjoy living here in Montreal. It's a great place to be and we're going to do our best to learn it. I can't make promises that I'll be able to speak it fluently but I'll try."
On a stirring video on the Canadiens' Web site introducing him as captain, the closing image is Gionta speaking French.
"He can't be the guy all the time to talk to the media, to handle everything," Gill said. "We have to share that with him. That being said, it is a high-pressure job and he's going to be looked to and I think he's a guy that can handle that. That's why he was named captain. He's a guy that doesn't get fazed by much.
"He can't be the guy all the time to talk to the media, to handle everything. We have to share that with him. That being said, it is a high-pressure job and he's going to be looked to and I think he's a guy that can handle that. That's why he was named captain. He's a guy that doesn't get fazed by much." -- Hal Gill
Teammates spoke very highly of Gionta's leadership skills prior to his appointment
"You watch the way (Gionta) handles himself and you have no choice but to follow his lead," defenseman Josh Gorges
told AOL FanHouse. "He's a small guy, but one of the hardest in the League to play against."
Cammalleri told the (Toronto) Globe and Mail: "You can look at his leadership on the ice and the way he plays the game, his work ethic, he's well liked by his teammates. There are a lot of big assets that would make Brian a good captain."
Gionta never publicly campaigned for the role, even though his name was bandied about as a choice for the vacancy that existed all last season. Earlier this month, a story in French-language La Presse reported Gionta would be the choice, but when asked at the start of training camp how he felt, he only said, "It would be a big honor."
Gionta previously captained Boston College to an NCAA title in 2000-01, and during his seven seasons with the Devils, he was surrounded by leaders like Scott Stevens
and Scott Niedermayer
Gionta succeeds Saku Koivu
, who had been captain from 1999-2009, but left as a free agent following the 2008-09 season. Last season was the first time in club history the Canadiens played a full season without a captain.
In 534 NHL games with the Devils and Canadiens, Gionta has 180 goals and 358 points. He won a Stanley Cup in 2003 with New Jersey, and in 86 Stanley Cup Playoff games, he has 28 goals and 55 points.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com