Gionta's quiet leadership wins over teammates

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens players say teammate Brian Gionta was the right choice for captain and they would have voted for him -- if it had been up to them.

Management on Wednesday named the soft-spoken winger the 28th captain in franchise history.

The 5-foot-7 winger from Rochester, N.Y., was to don the captain's jersey officially for the first time Thursday night as the Canadiens played the Buffalo Sabres in an exhibition game at the Bell Centre.

Gionta, 31, has tried to deflect attention from himself while acknowledging such legendary predecessors as Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard and Bob Gainey.

"Obviously it's a big thing, it's one of the most storied franchises in the league," Gionta said. "It's obviously quite an honour, I'm real excited about it ... with all the names, all the guys, Hall of Famers who have come through, it's pretty special."

Habs brass told Gionta about his promotion on Wednesday. Defencemen Hall Gill and Andrei Markov will be Gionta's alternate captains.

Forward Maxim Lapierre said the Canadiens agree Gionta is the right man for the job, given the leadership he has shown in less than 18 months with the team.

"He represents the unanimous choice of the players," Lapierre said.

The Canadiens had not had a captain since Saku Koivu signed with the Anaheim Ducks as a free agent in July 2009. That same month, Gionta signed a five-year deal with the Habs.

Although they barely squeezed into the playoffs last season, Gionta led them to their first berth in the Eastern Conference final since winning the Stanley Cup in 1993.

The 6-foot-7 Gill likely will be the team's most vocal leader this season, but Gionta's quiet style has won him fans in the locker room.

A captain doesn't always have to talk to make an impact," Lapierre said. "Sometimes it's just a question of remaining calm in a panic situation and then the rest of the group follows. That's what Gio did for us during the playoffs."

Gionta says that aside from leading his team to a Stanley Cup he has more modest goals, such as learning to speak French.

"It's important to take in the culture here," said, adding that his children are enrolled in French school.


Photos