Ask New Jersey Devils
forward Brian Gionta
if he knows a penny nail from a roofing nail -- or the function of a hacksaw from the keyhole type.
What's the point?
Gionta's NHL career has a hardware-store genesis.
"My family," said Gionta, "that's where I get my hard-work roots from. Just a small mom-and-pop hardware store; they had to work hard to keep it going. I learned that growing up and working for [my dad]. The values my dad and mom instilled in me make me the person I am today."
As Brian and younger brother Stephen got more involved in hockey, Sam and Penny Gionta would hang the "Closed" shingle and head to their sons' games in upstate New York.
In 1997, they began the 400-mile trek east over the next eight years when each played four years at Boston College. Now, they head to Newark for Brian's games. And to Lowell, Mass., where Stephen has played for the Devils' AHL affiliate since 2006.
"They've been there for me for a long time now," said Gionta, a Rochester, N.Y., native.
At 5-foot-7 -- the smallest player in the NHL as long as Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe
(5-6) is in the AHL -- Gionta has looked up to many an opposing player over his amateur and professional career. He also looked up as he hoisted the NCAA national championship trophy for BC his senior season in 2001. Then to Lord Stanley when the Devils won it all just two years later in 2003.
For Gionta, presence and performance are uniquely intertwined in other significant outcomes.
In 2005-06 -- the season following the lockout -- Gionta rewrote the Devils' record book by becoming the team's all-time single-season goal scorer with 48. Half were power-play goals -- also a team record.
"The lockout helped," said Gionta about his increased offensive production. "But before the lockout, you learned how to deal with traffic. Once the lockout was over, the game was much more open for a faster, smaller guy. That definitely helped out in the scoring areas."
In the 1998 Entry Draft, Devils President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello had a unique perspective about Gionta's potential when he took him in the third round at No. 82.
"Brian's had success at every level he's at," said Lamoriello. "The only reason that you would look beyond him is because of his size. What he accomplished in college and the players he played against gave you no indication that size was going to be an issue. He was one of those players that at every level he went to somebody was going to say 'He's too small.' But you can never measure the size of his heart. So we felt when he came to the draft, we'd rather find out that he couldn't play rather than somebody else finding out that he could."
There was never an issue about Gionta going to Boston College. And it didn't take Eagles fans long to see that Gionta could play.
and I were on the same junior team at the time and he went [to BC] the year before me," said Gionta. "When I came on my visit and saw the school and players there, I was convinced they were ready to make a run at things."
With annual contributions from Gionta, the "run" would include three national title games in 1998, 200 and 2001.
"My first year I was fortunate to play with Marty Reasoner
," said Gionta, "a good guy to break into the league with."
Indeed, Gionta's highest offensive production was the freshman year -- 30-32-62 -- that ended with a crushing loss in Boston in overtime to a Marty Turco
-led Michigan, 3-2.
The 2000 title game, led by Gionta and Hobey Baker winner and current Devils defenseman Mike Mottau
, was also a loss, 4-2 to North Dakota.
"2001 was huge for us," said Gionta -- who was captain -- and put up a 31-33-54 total to max out a second-best BC career total of 123-109-232 in 164 games. His career goal total is No. 1 all-time; he also holds BC's record of hat tricks with nine.
"That was the year we finally broke the (championship) drought since 1949. And BU's string of Beanpots, we finally broke through that. Then winning the national championship was a confidence booster to turn a new leaf for the university."
"Brian's had success at every level he's at. The only reason that you would look beyond him is because of his size. What he accomplished in college and the players he played against gave you no indication that size was going to be an issue. He was one of those players that at every level he went to somebody was going to say 'He's too small.' But you can never measure the size of his heart. So we felt when he came to the draft, we'd rather find out that he couldn't play rather than somebody else finding out that he could."
-- Lou Lamoriello
BC would go on to play in three more consecutive title games in 2006, 2007 and 2008, winning last year against Notre Dame, for a third BC championship banner.
Led by freshman Chuck Kobasew
's assist on sophomore Krys Kolanos
's OT goal, BC would take the 2001 North Dakota rematch, 3-2, in Albany, while Gionta was named Player of the Year in Hockey East.
"There were eight of us in the senior class that year," said Gionta about the contributions that year by assistant captain Bobby Allen
and other current NHL players like Pittsburgh's Rob Scuderi
, and Brooks Orpik
, and Scott Clemmensen
. "We'd been through it all since the loss year in '98. It took the monkey off."
"My whole four years," said Gionta, "I never thought about leaving early. It was too much fun to play on those teams and live on campus and hang out with those guys."
"It's a huge honor," said Gionta about being recently named Hockey East's Top Goal Scorer as part of the league's 25th anniversary celebration. "Look at how many have come through like [BU's Chris] Drury, Reasoner, [Maine's Paul] Kariya.
"And coach [Jerry] York was a great influence. He keeps such a quiet profile, while you learn the game and get to play the game."
Gionta's regular season NHL total reads 451 games with a crisp pace of 145 goals and 152 assists for 297 points. Sixty playoff games have netted a 17-18-35 total.
Of more note is his durability, having played all 82 games in 2005-06 and 2007-08.
"Winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate dream as a kid," said Gionta while ranking his accomplishments. "BC's national championship No. 2 for sure with all my life-long friends. Scoring 48 is a huge personal honor. There again, a lot off help from a lot of teammates."
Along with intrinsic motivation from a few other NHL players before him.
"I obviously had the influence of guys like [Pat] LaFontaine and [Theo] Fleury. This generation might have myself or [Marty] St. Louis. But just go out there and work; not think about other things."
What's Gionta's lasting BC impression?
"I got my degree. Just have fun. It's definitely the best four years you'll have."