MONTREAL – It turned out that the Montreal Canadiens did not unveil their new captain at the club’s annual charity golf tournament Thursday, but if it ends up being Brian Gionta, he’ll have plenty of support from his teammates.
A report in La Presse on Thursday said the Canadiens’ 28th captain would be Gionta, a quiet leader on the team that surprised many by reaching the NHL Eastern Conference final last spring.
”You tell a young guy when you get to practice ‘That’s the guy to watch, the way he works,”’ centre Scott Gomez said of the 31-year-old winger. ”If it’s true, it’s an honour well deserved. He’s a great guy.”
Coach Jacques Martin insisted that the decision has yet to be made, but he said a captain will be named before the start of the regular season. Team management will make the choice, but only after consulting the players.
”We will continue our process, but it’s important to address the players first,” Martin said at Laval-Sur-La-Lac golf club, where a team that made only a handful of off-season changes got together for the first time since the end of the playoffs.
Training camp opens Friday with medical examinations. The players will officially be on the ice for the first time Saturday, although several have been skating together at the team’s suburban training centre for more than a week.
The Canadiens went without a captain last season, using a group of alternates instead, but Martin and general manager Pierre Gauthier feel the time is right to pin the C on one of them.
Gionta, one of the NHL’s smallest players at five foot seven who nonetheless led the team with 28 goals last season, said he will take the job if it’s offered.
”It would be an honour,” said the speedy winger who last served as a captain at Boston College a decade ago. ”I don’t think it’s any added pressure. You just go out and play.
”I’m just a quiet guy. I just go about my business. I do things by example, I guess. I’m not the rah-rah guy. I just try to work hard and compete for my teammates.”
Others likely to be considered for the job are defencemen Andrei Markov and Hal Gill, as well as Gomez and perhaps winger Mike Cammalleri. Another name that came up this summer was Josh Gorges, a smaller-than-average but gritty rearguard.
”He’s definitely part of that group of guys who lead the team,” Gionta said of Gorges. ”He has a lot of respect.”
Gomez, who won a Stanley Cup with Gionta in New Jersey in 2003, said his teammate learned a about leadership from Devils veterans like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and, perhaps most of all, Joe Nieuwendyk.
”If you know Joe Nieuwendyk, there’s probably no better leader in the game,” Gomez said of the former forward who is now general manager of the Dallas Stars. ”Nieuwy definitely took Gio under his wing.”
Gauthier said the team elected not to have a captain last season because of the massive off-season changes made by former general manager Bob Gainey in the summer of 2009. They included letting go of free agent Saku Koivu, who had served as captain since 1999.
The newcomers included Gionta, Gomez, Gill, Cammalleri and defenceman Jaroslav Spacek.
The team struggled in the regular season, but came together at the end to slip into the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference. Then they upset Washington and Pittsburgh, each in seven games, before bowing out to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference final
”I like our leadership group and I liked the way it developed last year without a captain,” said Gauthier. ”Actually, it was better not to have one, because with the number of new people it was able to grow naturally.
”As we went along, we did question ourselves as to whether we should name a captain or not. It wasn’t the plan, but you’re allowed to change. There came a point when we saw a lot of emotion on the club. People were getting mad and they were vocal and it came from many directions. So we said ‘Let it go.’ And that was maybe the turning point.”
If Gionta is named captain, the Rochester, N.Y. native would be the team’s second American to wear the C after Chris Chelios, who shared the captaincy with Guy Carbonneau in 1989-90.
The Canadiens will have 58 players in camp, including their off-season acquisitions—back-up goalie Alex Auld, defenceman Alexandre Picard, and forwards Dustin Boyd, Lars Eller and Jeff Halpern.
Gone are goalie Jaroslav Halak, defencemen Marc-Andre Bergeron and Paul Mara and forwards Glen Metropolit, Dominic Moore and Sergei Kostitsyn.
There were reports that defenceman Roman Hamrlik will miss the start of camp with a knee injury. Hamrlik said only that the injury was not serious.