By Erica Whyte | Photo courtesy of @LetsGoAmerks
Rochester’s hometown hero has reported for duty, and while his role with the team is limited in nature, he’s most definitely here. Amidst a cloud of speculation after a somewhat secretive spotting at The Blue Cross Arena earlier this month, it has been announced that Greece native Brian Gionta will be joining the Amerks on a practice-only basis.
The 38-year-old former Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens captain alluded that his decision to skate with the Amerks was very much a family-based one, and that he will be using his time in Rochester to not only help mentor the young Amerks players but to prepare himself for international competition.
"It’s a good thing for myself to stay in shape, stay active, and be practicing, and I think I can provide some things to the young guys,” said Gionta after his first practice with the team on Tuesday. “Coming out at practice and working with the guys out here…it’s a win-win for both sides,” Gionta said.
Amerks general manager Randy Sexton elaborated on the mutually-beneficial agreement, which up until now, he’s never been a part of. Sexton also admitted, however, that it’s a situation where both parties benefit immensely.
WATCH: RANDY SEXTON ON INVITING GIONTA TO PRACTICE WITH AMERKS
"We thought it was a terrific opportunity to help a Rochester native, and somebody who could help us out in terms of his commitment to play and the way he looks after himself,” said Sexton. "Brian Gionta is the consummate pro, and we thought having him around on a daily basis would be a very good thing. He is a good role model for our players across the board.”
A win-win for all parties is right: Gionta gets to prepare himself for the international stage and spend time with his family while practicing in the arena that he grew up in alongside longtime friends Nathan Paetsch and Chris Taylor. In return, the Amerks get a first-hand look at what it takes to have both success and longevity as a professional hockey player.
Not to mention the influence of having a player of Gionta’s caliber and experience, which includes more than 1,000 NHL games spanning the last 16 years. Rochester’s young players couldn’t help but grin when asked about just how special it was for them to share the ice with the Stanley Cup winning Sabres captain during his first practice with the squad.
“It’s awesome,” said rookie C.J. Smith, who is tied for the AHL scoring lead among rookies after opening weekend.
WATCH: CHRIS TAYLOR AFTER PRACTICE TUESDAY
Smith made his NHL debut at the end of the last season with the Sabres, playing on the opposite wing as Gionta during his brief two-game stint.
“Obviously not many guys in our situation get to play with such an experienced player and such a good leader like him. So I’m honored to have ‘Gio’ on the ice, and he is a great leader out there.”
The Amerks will return to action Friday, Oct. 13 as they host the Utica Comets at The Blue Cross Arena. The contest will have a 7:05 p.m. opening puck drop and will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester.