WINNIPEG – The Western Canadian road trip isn’t easy on anyone, but it’s been a little tougher on the captain than others.
In the midst of the team’s longest road trip of the season, a nine-day, four-game road swing through three different time zones, Brian Gionta has done more cross-country travelling than the rest of his teammates. With a lot more on his mind than picking up wins out west, the 34-year-old father of three stayed back in Montreal on Monday when the Habs flew to Calgary after his son suddenly fell ill. While he joined the Canadiens the next night ahead of their game at the Saddledome and hit the ice again at Rexall Place one day later, instead of flying out to Vancouver with the team on Thursday night, Gionta instead caught a morning flight back home to be with his family.
With his son on the mend and another game to prepare for on Tuesday, Gionta made the trek to Winnipeg and was back on the ice with his hockey family on Monday afternoon at the MTS Centre.
“We gave him the option to stay home given the circumstances, but he wanted to come be here with his teammates,” mentioned Michel Therrien, who had Gionta skating on a line with Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty at practice. “That’s a great display of leadership. He’s a great captain.”
Playing in Edmonton with his heart still in Montreal on Thursday against the Oilers, Gionta was happy to have some time to take care of business on the home front over the weekend.
“It’s family first and it’s been a week now but the last couple of days have been good. He’s doing a little better,” shared Gionta on his son’s condition. “Edmonton was definitely a tough game to go through, but it was nice to be back and make sure everything was ok. That flight was the toughest because it’s five hours and you just want to be home as soon as possible.
“Marc [Bergevin] and Michel have been really understanding,” he added. “The support and the thoughts about my family from all the guys have been really nice. There’s a lot more to hockey than hockey; it puts things in perspective.”
Returning to the lineup in Winnipeg after missing Saturday’s convincing 4-1 win over the Canucks, Gionta will also be celebrating a milestone against the Jets, about to suit up for his 700th career NHL game on Tuesday night.
“It’s crazy. One minute you’re that young prospect breaking in and the next minute, you’re the old guy on the team,” admitted the captain with a laugh. “It happened overnight. It feels good that I’ve been able to maintain in this league that long but when you see the young kids coming in and they’re playing their 50th or 100th games, you’re definitely envious about being back in their shoes just starting out.”
Feeling a little wiser and a lot older than he did heading into his first NHL game as a 22-year-old in 2001, Gionta is comfortable in his role as one of the team’s elder statesmen, even if some of his pop culture references tend to get lost in the Canadiens’ youth-infused dressing room.
“We stopped trying with [21-year-old Brendan] Gallagher even. Movies, music, artists from the ‘80s, he has no clue,” joked Gionta, who made his NHL debut when Gallagher was in the fourth grade and Alex Galchenyuk was two months shy of celebrating his eighth birthday. “We talk about old movies or tapes we had, but Gally probably doesn’t even know what a Walkman is – he grew up with an iPod by the time he was five.”
Looking forward to bringing his extra experience back into the lineup against the Jets, the 12-year NHL veteran isn’t expecting to be an X-factor or secret weapon in the final game of the road trip; he’s just planning on being the kind of leader he’s always been.
“I don’t really think too much into it. I just try to go out there and play my game,” he stressed. “People who know me know I just try to go out there and lead by example.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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