This evening, the Rochester Americans announced that Brian Gionta will be joining the team to practice “for an extended period of time in preparation for international play.” The wording of the announcement has us thinking that the former BC star is likely preparing for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Let’s break it down...
The NHL announced earlier this year that they will not be allowing current NHL players to play in the Olympics. This means Team USA and Team Canada in particular will be made up of AHL/ECHL players, college players, and/or recent retirees. Gionta, who captained the Buffalo Sabres for the past 3 seasons, does not have a professional contract for the 2017-18 season. (The Amerks are the Sabres’ AHL affiliate and are located in Gionta’s hometown.)
If you are creating a team for international play that is largely made up of young players, having a veteran leader of Gionta’s caliber would be a huge plus. Gionta had a modest but respectable 35 points in 82 games last season, and has played in over 1,000 NHL matches. He would not put up huge numbers for Team USA, but would be good for a few goals. In recent seasons, he has gotten particularly good at knocking in the gritty rebound goals that might not be pretty but can make all the difference.
The alternative to preparing for an Olympic appearance is preparing for a European contract. But why would Gionta need to practice in the US to join a team that has already started its season (as most European leagues have)? Plus, Gionta is a married father of three young children - not ideal for moving overseas when you have already made a significant amount of money from hockey.
Between the wording of the statement and his status as an unsigned veteran player, all signs point to Gionta getting ready to try out for the 2018 Olympic Team.