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Montreal Canadiens' Brian Gionta breaks away from Buffalo Sabres defenceman Chris Butler during first period pre-season NHL hockey action Thursday, September 30, 2010 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson (Paul Chiasson)
Montreal Canadiens' Brian Gionta breaks away from Buffalo Sabres defenceman Chris Butler during first period pre-season NHL hockey action Thursday, September 30, 2010 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson (Paul Chiasson)

Sean Gordon

Gionta settles in, stands out Add to ...

Wrangling a chaotic group of five-year-olds is unnerving enough without the added stress of a famous NHLer in the room helping lace his son's skates.

Never mind having him stick around to listen to a pre-practice chalk talk.

At least the Montreal Canadiens' Brian Gionta isn't exactly a glowering presence. And though he is now officially part of Habs lore as the team's 28th captain, his lasting contribution to Quebec hockey may turn out to be little Adam Gionta, coming soon to a house league near you on Montreal's South Shore.

"We haven't actually decided where he's going to play yet, but he's sure excited," Gionta laughed when asked about the day a few weeks ago when he showed up for his five-year-old son's first foray into organized hockey.

In the salary-cap era there's a tendency to identify and judge hockey players by their pay packets, but as Gionta pointed out in a recent conversation with The Globe and Mail, there's a lot more to the equation when free agency comes around.

"People see the contract, the years and the dollars - and it's great, don't get me wrong - but at the same time, you're still uprooting your family and changing your life completely," the 31-year-old native of Rochester, N.Y., said. "It's the sort of thing you don't do lightly."

In addition to Adam, Gionta and his wife Harvest have a daughter Leah, who is still a toddler.

And after having spent a year in Montreal - the family lives in the suburb of Brossard, Que., which is also home to the Habs' practice facility - Gionta says the decision to sign a five-year, $25-million (U.S.) pact with the Canadiens in 2009 still feels like the right one.

His wife and children are busily learning French - it's been a tougher slog for Gionta, who is nonetheless determined to make an effort - and settling in to their new surroundings.

"It's been great, I'd say it's how we saw it all playing out, it's gone really well, it's why we did what we did" he said.

That Gionta has been rewarded with the C, an honour he takes seriously, is just an added bonus (he was chosen just in time to be feted at the Habs' last home preseason game on Thursday against Buffalo).

Not that he plans to start barking out orders in his new capacity.

In fact, he's bracing for the prank that he's convinced will follow his elevation.

"It's kind of weird that nothing's happened yet," he said Thursday, confirming his skates were shaving cream-free. "They must be going for the stealth attack."

Former New Jersey Devils teammate Martin Brodeur wrote in a website column last year that he didn't see Gionta or linemate Scott Gomez as captain material, a dig that didn't seem to bother Gionta ("he's a great guy, I respect him greatly," he said).

Two men who have known Gionta longer than he's been a professional say that on the contrary, the diminutive, speedy winger - who once scored 48 goals in a season and sets the example with his hard-nosed play - is an ideal choice for captain.

And why's that, exactly?

"Well, he's not an ass," Gomez, who has known Gionta since the two were teenaged prospects trying out for the U.S. national program, joked at the team's golf tournament last month.

Habs centre Jeff Halpern, who only joined the team last month but has known Gionta for a decade, said "before the lockout people always had doubts about his size … but it's been great to see him develop such a great career, it shows the fight in him."

The Maryland-born forward first met Gionta when the latter was still in college and they found themselves in the same squad at the 2000 world championships in Russia (Montreal defenceman Hal Gill was also on the team).

"My first memory of him and [New York Islanders defenceman]Mike Mottau is from the world championships. They were both still at Boston College and they played a lot of video games; they were like the little brothers on the trip," Halpern said, adding with a laugh, "and look at him now."

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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