BOSTON – Brian Gionta has a soft spot for Boston, even if he is trying to put the Bruins out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens captain played his varsity hockey at Boston College, where he led the Eagles to an NCAA title in his senior year in 2001.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Gionta said. “It was quite an experience for me and one of the best four years of my life. I owe a lot to that school for what they’ve done for me. They built some foundation for me, for sure.”
Now leading the Canadiens, fierce archrivals of the Bruins, Gionta scored both goals Thursday in Montreal’s 2-0 win over Boston in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first round playoff series.
That a five-foot-seven, 175-pound American is wearing the captain’s ‘C’ for perhaps the most storied franchise in the NHL comes as no surprise to his former varsity coach.
“There’s something about those particular players that besides being all-stars, and I’m sure Brian’s headed for the Hall of Fame with the NHL, but he just had that quality about him that he personified leadership,” said Jerry York.
“When you think of all the traits that good leaders have, whether it’s Winston Churchill, whether it’s John F. Kennedy, or John Elway…Brian has those qualities where people just listen to him or people gravitate toward him. He does all the right things all the time.”
York, who has coached the Eagles since 1994, called Gionta “the top player I’ve coached at Boston College.”
In fact, he wants to see Gionta immortalized at the school.
“We’re going to have a statue of him pretty soon outside for him,” York said. “We have a Doug Flutie statue and now it’s going to be Brian Gionta statue.”
Flutie, another diminutive athlete who became a star quarterback in the CFL and NFL, had his statue unveiled in 2008.
Gionta along with fellow former New Jersey Devil Scott Gomez, bring valuable playoff experience to the Habs’ locker-room. Gomez won two Stanley Cups in New Jersey, and Gionta won one.
“Those guys (with defenceman Brent Sopel, who won the Cup last year with Chicago) have won before,” said goalie Carey Price, who ended his personal eight-game playoff losing streak with the shutout. “They know what it takes. Brian and G-O, they’ve got really good chemistry. Those are the types of players that are really going to carry us through this.”
Montreal coach Jacques Martin praised his captain’s work ethic and character.
“He’s a tremendous individual but also a great player. At both ends of the ice he’s an individual that gives you what he has every night, leads by example and is fully committed–and has tremendous respect of his teammates,” Martin said.
“I guess I should say because (we’re in) Boston, Jerry York taught him well.”
Gionta now has 30 playoff goals, including eight game-winners, over his career.
Gomez, who has had a hard time from Montreal fans during a disappointing season, picked his 61st and 62nd points in his last 61 playoff games. He has 97 career playoffs points and never hides his feelings about being more concerned with the playoffs than the regular season.
“Coming from New Jersey and playing together and then being able to find their chemistry in the playoffs is a lot more important than clicking during the regular season,” defenceman James Wisniewski said of Gomez’s post-season production.
Notes: Martin said Andrei Kostitsyn’s bruised foot, which caused him to miss time Thursday after he blocked a Zdeno Chara slap shot, will be able to play. The coach also said defenceman Jeff Halpern, who has been out with a lower body injury, skated Friday and will be re-evaluated Saturday. Asked about Halpern possibly playing in Game 2, Martin said,“We’ll see.”