MONTREAL – The way Brian Gionta’s 2012-13 campaign finished was all too familiar for the Habs captain.
He knew exactly what was wrong as soon as he heard the pop. After spending the final four months of 2011-12 recovering from season-ending surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon in his right arm, Gionta didn’t need to wait for the doctor to give him the diagnosis when he felt a similar snap in his left arm this May.
“I knew right away. It was just a fluke play in the neutral zone. My arm got caught behind me with a guy and it got twisted the wrong way,” explained the 34-year-old, who injured his left biceps tendon in Game 1 against the Senators this spring. “It’s discouraging. The fact that not too many people have had it and it happened to me in back-to-back years is definitely hard to deal with. We’re hopeful [I’ll be back] for the start of camp next season. It’s a long road but I’ve been there and I’ve done it, so I obviously know what’s ahead.”
The silver lining in Gionta’s experience level when it comes to recovering from biceps surgery is he already knows how to bounce back stronger than ever. Coming off the longest injury of his career last year, the Rochester, NY native was one of just six Canadiens players to suit up for all 48 games in the truncated season. The 11-year NHL veteran also finished tied for second on the team with 14 goals, including three game winners, and improved from a minus-7 differential in 2011-12 to a plus-3 in 2012-13.
“The earlier they do [the surgery], the easier it is because if you wait too long with the muscle all balled up, it starts to build scar tissue and attach itself up there,” described Gionta of the procedure he’s since learned inside-out. “Basically once it was pain-free and the tendon had stretched back, it was mid-summer [last year] when I got really comfortable pushing it and not being worried. When I put on an elbow pad last year after about three months, I could feel it but I don’t even question it at all anymore. I’m hoping this one is the same.”
Entering the final year of his five-year deal with the Canadiens, the captain is planning on arriving for camp in September with a pair of healthy arms and a big chip on his shoulder. Having experienced everything from the team’s Centennial celebrations in 2009 and an incredible run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2010 to a disappointing last-place finish in 2012 followed by a complete overhaul behind the bench and in the front office that summer, Gionta is ready to lead the Habs to another place the 2003 Stanley Cup champ is familiar with: the top.
“I believe whole-heartedly in this team and what we can do. Those guys battled hard all year,” explained Gionta, whose team skyrocketed to second in the East just one year after their 15th-place finish. “What I’m most proud of is how we bounced back from games. When we had a tough loss or a subpar effort, it didn’t last long. Earlier in the year, when we had three games where we couldn’t get a win and we weren’t playing our best hockey, we continued to stick with it and continued believing in ourselves. That showed a lot of character in this room and that’s what it takes to win.”