His small stature prompted many to argue Brian Gionta was simply more of exactly what the Montreal Canadiens didn’t need when he signed a five-year, $25-million deal with the team last July.
One month into the NHL season, that notion has been laid to rest because it’s clear Gionta brings many elements the Canadiens have lacked for far too long.
It’s hard to believe a guy who stands just 5-foot-7 could make Montreal a much tougher team to play against, but that’s just what Gionta does. His feet haven’t stopped moving since they touched down in this city and his work ethic is infectious.
The Canadiens’ recent history is littered with small, skilled players, but none attacked the game quite like Gionta. It’s like he views every shift as an opportunity to prove wrong all the people who thought a little guy like him couldn’t survive in this man’s game.
Gionta is a tone-setter on a team that’s still coming together after an off-season of turnover. There is no better lead to follow than that put forth by Gionta night after night and for that reason, he should be the Canadiens’ next captain.
In addition to his on-ice efforts, Gionta is perfectly qualified to handle the verbal aspects of the Canadiens captaincy. He’s completely comfortable speaking with the hordes of media that follow the team’s every move, offering honest, insightful answers on his team’s play. As for his teammates, how can they not respect the voice of a player who defied the odds just by making the NHL and also has a Stanley Cup on his resume from his days with the New Jersey Devils?
Montreal is a team that has rarely outworked opponents over the past few seasons. Basically, the Habs have gone as far as their talent would take them. Gionta represents a departure from that because his contributions far exceed the bounds of his skill. Finally, the Canadiens have a genuine puck hound in their midst, a player who doggedly chases down opponents, causes turnovers and knows what to do with the puck once he does get it on his stick.
Now it’s time to get that ‘C’ on his sweater.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.