Being named captain of any NHL team brings an added level of responsibility, but when your predecessors have names like Beliveau, Richard, and Gainey, there’s a little extra pressure that comes with the title. When Gionta became the 28th captain in Canadiens history in September, he used that added incentive to help pot the second-most goals of his career.
“It’s an honor to wear the ‘C’. You never know how long that will last for so you have to make sure you enjoy it and do the best job you can. For me, it’s about just going out and competing every night and trying to lead by example,” explained Gionta of his team-leading 29-goal campaign. “I thought we had a great bunch of guys here this year and to be a part of that is special. It’s not about one guy influencing the team; it’s the way guys come together and the way guys play for each other that makes the biggest difference.”
While the 32-year-old had one of his best statistical seasons in 2010-11, Gionta measures the success of his season in more than just goals and assists.
“You’re never satisfied unless you win. There are always things you can do to improve and that’s what this process is all about,” described the 2003 Stanley Cup champ. “This year was a disappointment with how early it ended, but how we competed and the maturity some of the young guys showed are definitely huge positives for us going forward.
“We have a lot of young guys on the team and it was great for them to be able to experience things for the first time in the playoffs,” continued Gionta after helping three Habs rookies make their NHL playoff debuts this spring. “It was a great series intensity-wise and it was a good way to learn how playoff hockey needs to be played. It was a good example of what it’s all about and how little things add up to big things in a series.”
Having arrived in Montreal in the summer of 2009, Gionta knows the kind of changes July 1 can bring to a franchise. Instead of dwelling on the 18 restricted and unrestricted free agents his general manager will be looking to lock down this offseason, the Habs captain preferred to focus his attention on the players who will definitely be back in bleu-blanc-rouge next year.
“I think the core is strong. We have guys in the room who are the building blocks of a great team and we have a lot of pieces in place here,” he underlined. “With the players we have, I think we had a good shot. But there are going to be changes every year – it’s what this business is all about.
“That’s why you choose to come to a place like this because you know the organization is going in the right direction and their main focus is on winning,” added Gionta. “For us, the offseason is about looking at what you can do better next year and then hitting the gym and working as hard as you can to make sure you’re ready to go in September.”
Spoken like a true captain.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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