Twelve years after playing in the 2006 Torino Olympics, Brian Gionta makes his return to Olympic ice. The former NHL star will lead Team USA in PyeongChang as a team captain.
The five-foot-seven, 180-pound forward will try to get the U.S. back on the Olympic podium as the oldest and most veteran player on the team.
Here’s more on his family and career:
1. Gionta Grew Up in a Middle-Class Family in Rochester, New York
Gionta grew up in a middle-class family in Rochester, New York. He is the middle child of Sam and Penny Gionta. His father Sam, owned a hardware store and his mother, Penny, worked as a dental hygienist.
One winter, Gionta’s mother enrolled Brian and his brothers Joe and Stephen in skating lessons to keep them occupied during the long, cold and snowy New York winters.
Growing up, Gionta was often told he wouldn’t make it because of his shorter height and stature. Some teams turned him down because of his size. However, his mom, who is about 5-1 and father, who is 5-4, never let that deter Gionta.
“We never thought, ‘Oh, this team’s really big,’ we just dressed up the boys and sent them to play,” Penny Gionta told the New York Times. “Maybe we were a little brain dead, but we didn’t want them to be intimidated by anyone. We didn’t want them to have small-man’s syndrome.”
Gionta said he developed a strong work ethic and matured early because of family responsibility. He worked at his father’s hardware store, managing several duties. He explained that watching his father run that store with only one employee inspired him to work hard.
2. His Brother, Stephen Plays in the AHL
The Gionta Brothers have striking similarities in their careers. They both grew up as small, but quick players. Went on to play at Boston College, and both got their professional starts with the AHL Albany River Rats and NHL Devils. Each also reached the Stanley Cup Finals in their second season.
Brian played for the Buffalo Junior Sabres and became a standout at Boston College. His younger brother, Stephen played in the U.S. development program and five years later arrived at Boston College.
They were in the same organization for four years. Brian was a third-round pick of the Devils in 1998 and reported to AHL Albany in 2001 after college. Stephen signed with New Jersey as a free agent five years later and reported to Albany after winning an NCAA championship.
Stephen was called up by the New Jersey Devils on November 4, 2010. He made his NHL debut the following day playing in a home game 3–0 shutout loss to the New York Rangers.
After 11 seasons within the New Jersey Devils, Gionta became a free agent, and accepted a professional try-out contract to attend the New York Islanders training camp on September 12, 2016. He signed a one-year deal with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. On August 8, 2017, Gionta re-signed with the Islanders to another one-year deal. This October, Gionta was placed on waivers so he can be assigned to the AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Stephen said his brother has always been a source of inspiration.
“Watching Brian do amazing things in the NHL definitely inspired me and opened my eyes and the eyes of a lot of smaller players,” Gionta told The New York Times. “He showed us that it doesn’t matter how small you are. The only thing that really matters is how big your heart is.”
3. The Gionta brothers Battled on the ice for First Time in 2010
December 2, 2010, marked first time the Gionta brothers squared off in any organized hockey game. At the time Brian was the Canadiens captain and Stephen had been called up by the Devils the month prior.
“The only time that we’ve skated together competitively was in training camp here in Jersey, but there is a first time for everything,” Stephen told the media prior to the 2010 game. “When he was here, I was hoping to get into a game with him, but now that he’s moved on the next best thing is playing against him and hopefully it’ll be a good one tonight.”
It was a special night for both brothers and there is no doubt that Brian’s experience in New Jersey was an important factor in Stephen getting an opportunity with the Devils. Former president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said he wouldn’t have given Stephen a shot if it weren’t for the team’s familiarity with Brian.
“It’s such a solid family. If we hadn’t had Brian we probably wouldn’t have given Stephen a chance,” Lamoriello told ESPN.com.
“You know the character. You know their makeup.”
While the team’s experience with Brian may have put Stephen on their radar, Lamoriello emphasized that the younger Gionta had earned his place.
“He was the right player to bring in at the time,” Lamoriello said. “He’s earned everything he’s got. This hasn’t been a gift or a favor. He’s earned the ice time the coaches give him.
“Stephen’s here because he deserves to be here.”
4. Gionta Is Married
Gionta is married to his wife, Harvest, who he met in high school. Though just a freshman, Gionta asked Harvest on a date, who was a senior at the same high school.
“When we met we were both 5-3,” Gionta told the New York Times. “But Brian always acted much bigger than his size. Even if he was the last kid picked on a team, he would always work his way to the top line by the end of it. And when he asked me out, he seemed more mature than the guys my age. There’s just this sense about him.”
5. Gionta & His Wife Have 3 Children
Gionta and his wife, Harvest, have three children, Adam, Leah and James. At 38, Gionta turned down a chance at playing a 17th NHL season for this family.
He rejected at least one contract offer in July because it would’ve meant relocating his wife and three children. Instead, Gionta chose to pursue an opportunity to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.