Brian Gionta spent his 44th birthday on January 18 like most typical weekdays.
“A nice chilled out first half of the day,” Gionta said last week, “and then the second half gets the kids going.”
Traveling to hockey games with sons Adam, 17, and James, 10, and soccer games with daughter Leah, 14, is a big part of Gionta and his wife Harvest’s life in Rochester, New York. But Gionta, who retired from the NHL in 2018 after 16 seasons, dipped his toe into coaching and joined Niagara University on Jan. 12 as director of player development.
“I’ve known the coach Jason Lammers for a couple of years and I’ve had quite a few conversations over the past few years and he’s tried to get me to help and be a part of things,” Gionta said. “This year he wanted to find a way to get me in and we worked out one day a week.”
Gionta, who also serves as an assistant on the Buffalo Junior Sabers under-18 AAA team for which Adam plays, said he will also try to get to some of Niagara’s games that fit into his schedule. But above all, the players and coaches work on Wednesdays before, during and after training.
He has a lot to tell about his gaming experiences.
Gionta, a 5-foot-7, 178-pound forward, played four seasons at Boston College (1997-2001), where he remains the all-time all-time all-time all-time leader with 123 goals, before signing with the New Jersey Devils, who saw him for the selected third round (#82) of the 1998 NHL Draft. In 1,026 NHL games with the Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Sabers and Boston Bruins, Gionta had 595 points (291 goals, 304 assists).
Gionta, who was captain of the Canadiens and Sabers, also represented the United States at the 2006 Torino Olympics and 2018 PyeongChang, where he was captain.
“I think sometimes you take it for granted that you’ve played for so long and you know little subtleties, little things here and there throughout the game that you’ve learned,” said Gionta. “So just little things like packing guys up after practice. Really not much impact on their playstyle. Rather just little things here and there that they can do, whether it’s face-offs or board play or net front play, things like that you can convey.”
In a Q&A with NHL.com, Gionta discussed his possible future as a coach, the Sabers and Devils’ progress this season and Jack Hughes‘ Chances to break his single-season Devils goal record.
Is this job at Niagara University a step toward greater coaching involvement, possibly with an NHL team?
“I’m not sure. It’s like I’ve been the whole time that I’ve been retired, I like to do some stuff. I don’t want to be too tied down at the moment in terms of full-time commitment. So right now it’s the best of both worlds where I can spend time with the family, have the flexibility to do that and still be kind of involved with the game and the players and coaches and stuff… I don’t know what two years is out or three years, five years looks like this. I just enjoyed the time as it came.
How often do you watch the Sabers?
“I go to a podcast with Craig Rivet and Andrew Peters once a week, so I keep a close eye on them. So yeah, you watch it, you’re right here, you’re a part of it. I know a lot of people in the organization, whether it’s (general manager) Kevyn Adams or Matt Ellis, her assistant coach, people like that. So it’s fun to watch their season.
What do you think of the strides you’ve made in the quest for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
“This is easily the best it has seen over a long period of time. I don’t know if they’re a playoff team this year, but they’re making the strides a rebuild team wants to make and getting a little bit better, a little bit closer, every year. You’re currently competing for a wildcard, so that’s all you’d expect from this remodel. It just took longer to get there.
When you look ahead Days Thompson and defender Rasmus Dahlinare these two foundational players for Sabers long-term?
“Yes, I think those are your staples. They’re clearly built around that little young core and they’re pretty damn talented. You’re making really good progress. Thompson has been a bit of a steeper curve, but Dahlin just keeps getting better and better every year and it’s nice that they’ve given them the space to be themselves and play and grow.”
if you watch Cole Kaufield With the Canadiens, he’s a similar height to you (5-7, 174lbs), but is he a similar player?
“He’s definitely a different kind of player. (Brendan) Gallagher kinda reminds me more, though [Caufield] can shoot the puck. He’ll open up sooner and find it and he’ll bury it. So it’s fun to watch him play.”
Jack Hughes has scored 30 goals in 46 games which takes him to 53 goals which would break the Devils record you set when you scored 48 goals in 2005/06. are you keeping an eye on him
“You know what? My son asked me the other day, ‘Do you think he’s going to break the record?’ And I say, ‘How many does he have?’ And I knew he was in his mid to late 20s at the time. But I didn’t look closely. I think we’ll see how it goes, we’ll see. Listen, it’s going to happen. The team in its existence has it did not have a 50 goal scorer i have to think its coming very soon.
What impresses you about him?
“He’s a damn good player. i know the family I played with his uncle (Marty Hughes) at BC and I know his dad a bit. So we know the family, a great family, so it would be great to see him break it down for sure.”
The Devils look like they might qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2018. Are you happy with the progress they’ve made?
“Yeah, they kind of exploded this year. It’s fun to watch. I know (coach) Lindy (Ruff) well. I know (assistant) Chris Taylor really well from Rochester so it’s fun to see these guys succeed. “
Can you believe it’s been almost 20 years since you won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2003?
“No, it’s crazy. It’s weird to think it’s been so long, but it should be fun. We’re trying to make it there [20th anniversary celebration before the Devils game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 25]. …You keep in touch with some guys, but it would be nice to see everyone else you haven’t been able to keep in touch with.