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Gionta announces retirement, will take role with Sabres

Former captain played 1,026 games over 16 seasons

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Brian Gionta isn't ready to walk away from the game just yet - at least not completely. 

The former Sabres captain announced his retirement with his wife, Harvest, and several of his former teammates in attendance at KeyBank Center on Monday. He played 1,026 regular-season games and scored 595 points, captained two franchises and won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003. 

With that came another announcement: Gionta will continue to work with the Sabres in a developmental role. 

"One of my main focuses is being around for my family, being able to go to their events and their sports and be a part of their lives," Gionta said. "I still wanted to be a part of the game and wanted to be part of the organization.

"It's at a level that is great for my family and also where I can still think like I'm helping out a little bit."

Video: Brian Gionta announces retirement

Gionta was a guest instructor at the Sabres' development camp in July after practicing with the Rochester Americans last season in preparation for his run with Team USA at the Olympic Games in PyeongChang. 

During that time, he was lauded by Amerks coach Chris Taylor for his influence on the organization's young players. After taking one last run at the Stanley Cup with Boston to end last season, he knew working with prospects could be an avenue to stay in the game. 

"It's weird, definitely, being out there with a lot of young guys," Gionta said. "But I had a great taste last year being able to skate in Rochester with those guys, being around those guys. I had a lot of fun at it. 

"They have a great group down there and I was fortunate enough to be a part of it for most of last year. Being a part of that and being able to talk with those guys, and maybe help out at times, is what made last year so fun."

The transition to helping young players should be natural. Gionta's teammates revered him as the consummate professional, and the consistency of his pregame routine became the stuff of legends while in Buffalo. That consistency allowed him to remain effective deep into his thirties. 

Video: INTERVIEW: Gionta

Kyle Okposo remembered Gionta's tenaciousness as an opponent, then got to know him as a teammate in 2016-17, Gionta's last season in Buffalo. Okposo smiled while recounting what he learned from his former captain, who he described as "rock solid."

"He wasn't scared to say anything," Okposo said. "He really earned his stripes and he had that confidence to say what needed to be said. Just the presence, the way he carried himself because of his routine, because of his work, the way he prepared. It was pretty infectious and pretty powerful."

Gionta entered the league as a third-round pick with the Devils during the 2001-02 season. He was a 5-foot-7 forward at a time when those were rare in the NHL, but by the end of his sophomore season he was a Stanley Cup champion. The following season, he scored a career-best 48 goals 89 points. 

Montreal was where Gionta was first named captain, making him the second American to hold that distinction for a storied franchise. The Sabres brought the Greece, N.Y. native home to Western New York four years later. 

"To cap it off and come back to Western New York, my home area, and be able to play for your childhood team in the Sabres was also a highlight of my career," he said. 

After being able to spend more time with his family over the past year, Gionta said the decision to retire after one last stab at a Cup became clearer. It won't always be an easy decision, he admitted, but it was the right one.

"I'm fortunate that I'm walking away from the game into something even better, and that's being part of my kids growing up, and coaching them, and being there for them," he said. "I'm really looking forward to that next stage in my life."
 

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