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Brian Gionta on NHL future, representing USA Hockey again (PHT Q&A)

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The Olympic journey for Brian Gionta begins Monday night when he boards a flight to Germany to meet up with his USA Hockey teammates ahead of next week’s Deutschland Cup.

The Americans will play Slovakia, Russia and Germany in the tournament hosted by the German Ice Hockey Federation. It’s the first step for USA Hockey as they look to identify the players who will make up their roster at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Gionta is one of two players — Ryan Malone being the other — on the 29-man roster for the Deutschland Cup who has played in the Olympics. After the Buffalo Sabres declined to re-sign the veteran of 1,006 NHL games, he spent the summer searching for another NHL gig. While he and his agent had contract talks with a few teams, nothing came to fruition.

Earlier this month, once the Olympic option came on the radar, the 38-year-old Gionta began skating with the AHL’s Rochester Americans to stay in shape. His time is now spent skating during the mornings and hanging out with with his wife and three kids the rest of the day.

We spoke with Gionta on Friday, one day after he was in New York City for the Team USA WinterFest event.

Enjoy.

Q. What do you remember most about your Olympic experience in 2006?

GIONTA: “It was a dream come true. Just the whole enormity of it was so much fun. Obviously, disappointing how we finished [knocked out by Finland in quarterfinals] and that’s a driving force making that a better finish this year.”

Are surprised that you have this opportunity again given the NHL’s decision not to go to PyeongChang?

“Yes, for sure. Considering the past involvement and future sites coming up, I thought for sure they’d still be involved. Clearly, the decision was made on the NHL’s part to not allow those guys to go. How things shook out for myself late summer-ish, I didn’t really have it on the radar until things played out the way they did.”

When did your summer go from pursuing another NHL contract to heading in this direction where you could be part of the Olympic team again?

“Right up in through camp and during camp, still had a couple of teams that called with some interest. But with my three kids, the ages they’re at, it was a tough transition to make for them to be going someplace else. When we made the decision not to move the family or me move away from the family, USA Hockey had called and said they’d be interested if I was not playing in the NHL.”

Have you closed the door on playing again in the NHL?

“You never know. I would definitely not close the door. If the right situation came across, I’d have to think long and hard about it, for sure. But at the same time if nothing changes I’m completely excited about the prospect of playing in the Olympics and having a chance at a medal.”

As one of two guys with Olympic experience on the roster, what kind of advice could you pass along to your teammates who’ve never participated in one?

“The biggest thing is to enjoy it. It goes quick. On the ice, it’s not much you can say, it’s more trying to be a calming force in big games because you’ve been a part of bigger games throughout the career. It’s just trying to be a steady force to settle things at times.”

[VIDEO: Who will be on U.S., Canada Olympic men’s hockey rosters?]

How much of an advantage is it to have these tournament games as opposed to flying from your NHL city and thrown right into competition like in previous Olympics?

“It’s big. It’s an advantage to be together with some of the guys that will be on that team. But it’s also a big advantage because the whole coaching staff’s going to be over there. It’s the first case you get to implement the system that they want and playing within that. In year’s past, you haven’t had that luxury of being able to play for that coach or with those guys until you get over there and you have a couple of practices and you’re right into it.

“It’s definitely a unique situation. It’s a cool situation to have where you’re able to go over next week and get to know the guys, get to play with the guys and also get a feel for the coaches and their styles.”

Having been part of the Players’ Association, do you believe Olympic participation should be worked into the next Collective Bargaining Agreement?

“If the players want it, that’s a way to safeguard themselves away from the NHL being able to come in and out of certain Olympic Games. If it’s built into the CBA it’s a binding thing and you have a little more say in that. If the players and the PA want more control then having it in the CBA allows them to have a little more say when it comes time for those Games.”

From you experience internationally, when you have that many players coming together for a short tournament, what are some important things to do in order to start developing chemistry?

“Some of those little team bonding things you can do. But mostly it’s hanging out together, getting to know each other, getting a feel for where everyone’s come from and their backgrounds and creating that bond in a short period of time. It’s unique because we have that next week to be able to do some of that and even on your practice days before the games you have some time to build in stuff like that and try to build some chemistry and speed up that process a bit.”

Finally, whenever the time comes have you thought about what you want to do after your career is over?

“Over the last couple of year you start thinking about it. Still unsure with what direction that would be but I think in the current situation being able to practice with the Amerks in the AHL you’re kind of in-between. You’re in-between the players, you’re in-between coaches and management. So I can take this year to feel out the development side, feel out the management side, feel out the coaching side that when you’re immersed as a player and playing games and constantly grinding through the season, you don’t have that time to sit back and learn those things. I’m hoping to use this year to learn and maybe give some more direction to where the next few years will lead me.”

MORE: PyeongChang Olympic hockey schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Tavares gets back to scoring ways

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Players of the Night: 

Jonathan Bernier, Colorado Avalanche: Bernier made quite the save on Ryan Kesler, using his paddle to stop a backhand shot after sprawling across his crease in an attempt of desperation. He also stopped 33 pucks and won his sixth straight game in the process.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Jones made 29 out of 30 saves in the second and third periods in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. His 35-save effort was a nice rebound after allowing three goals on six shots and getting yanked on Saturday.

John Tavares, New York Islanders: Tavares scored a shorty in regulation on an unassisted breakaway and then the game-winner in overtime to lead the Isles past the Habs in Montreal.

Highlights of the Night:

Tyler Seguin provided some matinee magic with this overtime winner in Boston. What a goal:

Bernier made this incredible paddle save on a poor Ryan Kesler:

MISC:

Scores:

Stars 3, Bruins 2 (OT)

Avalanche 3, Ducks 1

Sharks 4, Kings 1

Islanders 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Barzal, Tavares shine as Islanders edge Canadiens 5-4 in overtime

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The scary thing about Mathew Barzal is that he may just be gaining steam.

Any time the New York Islanders play these days, it turns into Barzal Watch (in the Twitter world: #BarzalWatch). Even if the Islanders had plummeted as of late with five losses in their past six games heading into Monday, many are just tuning in to see what the dynamic rookie is going to do.

Indeed, Barzal has been lights this season, with 44 points in 44 games prior to Monday and coming off the buzz of a five-point game on Saturday — the second time he’s done that this season.

But John Tavares, who had just one goal in nine games coming into Monday, stole some of that spotlight back with a shorthanded goal in regulation and then the game-winner in overtime in a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Tavares second of the game came 1:51 into over time and after Carey Price made quite the save to stop a redirected attempt by Tavares just before the latter scored the winner.

Barzal was at it again early in the first period as the Islanders jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead.

Barzal fed Anthony Beauvillier with a nice lead pass and the latter ripped home his eighth of the season just down the road from where he grew up in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, beating Carey Price with New York’s first shot of the game.

It was Barzal’s 30th assist of the season and he followed that up with his 16th goal of the year on the Islanders just over five minutes later for the two-goal advantage. Barzal finished with three points and now has 10 in his past three games.

The Canadiens entered the game 2-0-1 in their past three games but were without Phillip Danault due to a puck to the head on Saturday and Andrew Shaw, who was injured in the same game.

Despite their recent success, things looked grim early on, with Price allowing two goals on four shots.

The Hab battled back, first by forcing a turnover in New York’s zone, allowing Jakub Jerabek to quickly find a wide open Nicolas Deslauriers out front to make it 2-1.

Another defensive breakdown by the Isles led to the tying goal as Paul Byron snatched his 12th of the year on a rebound.

Barzal grabbed his third point of the night early in the second period as the Isles restored the lead with Adam Pelech‘s first of the season at 2:37. And the Islanders led by two for the second time as John Tavares scored shorthanded 1:59 later on New York’s 10th shot.

The Canadiens, down two again, needed a second comeback and they put it together beginning with Jonathan Drouin‘s marker with 34 seconds left in the second period.

Montreal completed the comeback on the power play in the third, with Max Pacioretty scoring his 14th at 13:01.

Andrew Cogliano chokes up talking about the end of his iron-man streak

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An emotional Andrew Cogliano said having his iron-man streak ended by suspension was a “tough pill to swallow.”

Speaking to Fox Sports’ Kent French prior to the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, Cogliano choked up when asked about how tough the past 24 hours had been like for him.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, I’m not going to lie,” Cogliano said, fighting back tears. “I’ve played hard and I’ve battled. I’m a professional in that I’ve played a long time and I’ve now missed a game.”

Cogliano was suspended Sunday for two games following an illegal check to the head of Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe in a 4-2 Ducks win on Saturday.

The ban ended the NHL’s fourth-longest games played streak at 830 games for Cogliano, who had never missed action in his 11-year NHL career before Monday.

Cogliano was a 134 games shy of Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 consecutive games played, which the Ducks forward would have reached at the start of the 2019-2020 if he remained healthy.

“First and foremost I think, I probably initiated contact too late,” Cogliano said. “I’ve been very open about that with this process, and I made a mistake at that time.

“As I think about the hit though, I watch it and I still see that my body doesn’t change through the process of it. I think my shoulders are low, my elbows are low, my knees are bent and I’m in a pretty set position. As it evolves, he tries to make a play back across my body, which ends up maybe initiating some head contact near my upper back area. That’s what I see. I think there’s no injury, he came back and played. At the end of the day from what I’ve seen, it is a situation where we closed the gap on each other a little bit.”

Despite the hit, which clearly showed Cogliano nail Kempe in the head well after the puck had left the vicinity, Cogliano was surprised about hearing he was going to have a chat with the league.

“I was told after the game from Bob [Murray] that I was going to have a hearing or have a call,” Cogliano said. “I was surprised because no one said anything after the game to me otherwise. There was no media talking about it or nothing was brought up, so I was more surprised about that. Initially, I was thinking back on it, wondering what happened and wondering if I did anything bad.

“Obviously, you never want to injure anyone on the ice. That’s a fact. I’ve played 11 years and that’s one thing that I have stood behind and I’m glad he played the rest the game. From my end, there’s zero intent to do any sort of head contact or hit a person to injure them. I think it was a situation where I admitted to initiating contact too late and I think it was something that happened that ended up being very unfortunate for me.”

Cogliano said his teammates, and at least one Ducks legend, have offered their support.

“I’m probably being too dramatic about it. I’m sorry my emotions came out for whatever reason. I have had a lot of support.” Cogliano said. “I think there has been a lot of people that have reached out and initiated that I have done something special. The more I look back on it, it’s pretty cool. I think that playing 830 games in a row, not a lot of guys can say that and I think that’s something that I will hold to my heart.

“I appreciate all the texts. [Teemu] Selanne has been a big advocate in terms of reaching out. I may be making too big a deal of it, but I think when you go through the process and think back about coming to work and playing every single game for 11 straight years, it holds some value and holds some value to a lot of the guys in the league. Like I said, this is the last way I wanted it to go out. I’m glad he wasn’t injured and I’ll take the suspension, move on and come back and help my team.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: New York Islanders at Montreal Canadiens

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PROJECTED LINES

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Anders LeeJohn Tavares – Alain Quine
Anthony BeauvillierMathew BarzalJordan Eberle
Michael Dal Colle – Brock NelsonShane Prince
Jason Chimera – Tanner Fritz – Cal Clutterbuck

Nick LeddyScott Mayfield
Adam PelechSebastian Aho
Thomas HickeyRyan Pulock

Starting goalie: Thomas Greiss

PREVIEW FOR ISLANDERS-CANADIENS

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Alex GalchenyukJonathan DrouinDaniel Carr
Max PaciorettyPaul ByronCharles Hudon
Artturi LehkonenTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher
Nicolas DeslauriersByron Froese – Jacob De La Rose

Karl AlznerJeff Petry
Jordie BennJakub Jerabek
Victor Mete – David Schlemko

Starting goalie: Cary Price