This time last year, many had written off veteran forward Brian Gionta as having played in his last game. Instead, the 39-year-old captained the U.S. Olympic team at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and then returned home to a contract with the Boston Bruins for the stretch run and two rounds of postseason play. With that adventure added to a 16-year NHL career, Gionta now feels he can hang up his skates. The respected veteran announced at a press conference with the Buffalo Sabres today that he has retired from playing professional hockey. Gionta will remain with Sabres in a small off-ice role moving forward.
One of the most famed locker room leaders of his generation, Gionta served as the captain of both the Sabres and Montreal Canadiens during his career. He began as top prospect of the New Jersey Devils, a 1998 third-round pick out of Boston College. At BC, Gionta was a two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist and helped the Eagles to three Hockey East championships. In his second pro season, Gionta helped the Devils to a Stanley Cup championship in 2003, during which run he played in all 24 playoff games and chipped in nine points. Gionta truly broke out in the first post-lockout season, finishing in the top ten in goal scoring with 48 goals and 89 points in 2005-06. After seven years in New Jersey, Gionta played five seasons with Montreal and then returned home to upstate New York for three seasons with Buffalo.
Altogether, Gionta recorded 595 points in 1026 NHL games. An extremely durable player, Gionta played in 75+ games in nine different seasons, often averaging upwards of nineteen minutes of ice time per night. At just 5’7″, Gionta was a pioneer of the movement toward smaller players in the NHL, as his play proved that small stature doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of toughness and grit. Gionta was also a model player, especially considering his two-way nature, as he stayed out of the penalty box for much of his career. Gionta will always be remembered for his unique style, versatility, hockey IQ, and of course, leadership. Should he really embrace the management side of the game with Buffalo, he will likely continue to find success in the game of hockey.