The 29 year old grew up about an hour away in Rochester, New York.
After spending six years playing in the minors in the Devils’ organization, Gionta has finally made it into the NHL on a full-time basis. This season has a lot of firsts for the center, who this time last year was riding the bus with the Albany Devils.
“This will be a first,” Gionta said in an interview with reporters yesterday. “It will be awesome playing against Buffalo. It’s only an hour away from where my parents live. There will be a lot of family and friends. I think as a kid I played between periods once. Real young. That was it.”
Gionta, who was a vital part of the Devils surprising run to the Stanely Cup Finals last year, has played in his hometown when he was playing in the AHL, but this is different.
“You always look at the Sabres as the NHL team closest to you and the history they have,” the center explained.
For Gionta, whom many considered to be a career minor league player, the whole NHL experience this season has been special.
“I spent six full seasons in the minors,” Gionta reminisced. “I always said that I could be happy with my career playing in one NHL game, and I got that a couple years ago. If that’s all it was, one game, that’s something you dream of as a kid. To say you played in the best league is pretty cool, even for just one game. But it also gives you the itch that you want more.”
Now, he does.
With a 1-4-1 record in the last six games and the team slipping down in the standings with each loss, the Devils have reached the must win stage against the Sabres this afternoon.
Ryan Carter, who has been out since suffering a concussion in the February 18th game against the Ottawa Senators, will be reunited with his line mates Gionta and Steve Bernier.
Anton Volchenkov, Peter Harrold and Krys Barch will sit.
Coach Pete DeBoer said the team did some things well in the loss Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
“We played a good road game,” DeBoer told reporters. “Obviously, goal scoring has been an issue the last two weeks. We’re generating opportunities. We’ve got to hang around the net a little bit more, get a little bit dirtier, get to the paint a little bit more. But, other than that, I wouldn’t change a whole lot.”