Brian Gionta

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Bettman, Thomas among U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman headlines the 2019 class of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Bettman, former Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, longtime NHL forward Brian Gionta, Washington youth hockey staple Neal Henderson and U.S women’s star Krissy Wendell will be inducted at a ceremony Dec. 12. Bettman was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto last year.

Thomas in 2011 became the second American and the oldest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2011 when he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. He made headlines for skipping the trip to see then-President Barack Obama in the White House and has been virtually invisible since walking away from hockey in 2014.

Gionta put up 595 points in 16 NHL seasons and won the Cup with New Jersey in 2003. He represented the U.S. in the 2006 and 2018 Olympics.

Henderson in 1978 co-founded the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the oldest minority hockey club in North America, and was part of the NHL’s launch of its “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

Wendell won two NCAA titles at Minnesota and ranks fourth all-time with 2.35 points a game. She put up 247 points in 147 international games, was the MVP of the 2005 world championships when the U.S. won gold for the first time and served as captain at the 2006 Olympics.

Brian Gionta goes from U.S. Olympic team to Boston Bruins

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Brian Gionta was hoping to use the 2018 Winter Olympics as an opportunity to showcase his game to NHL teams after not being re-signed by the Buffalo Sabres last season.

On Sunday, the Boston Bruins felt he could help them down the stretch and signed the 39-year-old forward to a contract for the remainder of the season. Gionta will earn a pro-rated $700,000 salary.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has been busy. He’s traded for Nick Holden to bolster his blue line, acquired Rick Nash to strengthen his forward group and now added Gionta for some depth up front. “If there is an area we can continue to supplement our group, we will do that,” he said on Saturday.

[Rick Nash addition shows Bruins loading up for Stanley Cup run]

In order to play in the postseason, Gionta, who’s no stranger to Boston having helped deliver a national title to Boston College in 2001, needed to sign a contract by Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

Despite spending all summer as an unrestricted free agent, Gionta still hadn’t shut the door on the NHL. “If the right situation came across, I’d have to think long and hard about it, for sure,” he told me in November.

Gionta went pointless in five games in PyeongChang while captaining the Americans, who were bounced in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic. He looked very much his 39 years on the big ice, but maybe a return to the NHL could rejuvenate him? He did score 15 goals and recorded 35 points in 82 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17.

It’s a low-risk move for the Bruins. If it doesn’t work out, Gionta’s not an anchor on their salary cap and they can part ways. If he can contribute, it was worth the lottery ticket for Sweeney.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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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.

After scoring in Rochester return, next up for Brian Gionta: PyeongChang (Video)

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Friday night in Rochester was “Hometown Heroes Night” at the AHL Americans game versus the Toronto Marlies. The theme was fitting considering the situation: Brian Gionta, the hometown boy who hadn’t played a game since April 9, suited up for one night before heading off to captain the U.S. men’s team in the PyeongChang Olympics.

To make things even more perfect, the 39-year-old Gionta, who played for the Rochester Jr. Americans when he was 15, scored midway through the second period, causing the nearly 10,000 in attendance inside Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial to erupt.

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“It sends chills up your back when something like that happens,” said Gionta, who’s been skating with the Americans since October and signed a one-game tryout contract last week.

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

The Amerks would fall 4-2, but that was secondary to the moment Gionta provided to the fans in the building and the send-off they gave him after the game.

“The support was great tonight as we had close to a full building, but unfortunately we came up just short,” Gionta said. “I appreciate everything that the organization has done for me and providing me with this opportunity. Some guys had to sit out because of the veteran rule, so I cannot thank them enough.”

MORE: 2018 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.

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.

Gionta: Sabres’ offseason ‘excites guys in the locker room’

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The biggest winners of the Buffalo Sabres’ summer of resounding improvements might just be the players who suffered through the 2014-15 season (not to mention the fans).

Veteran winger Brian Gionta probably isn’t very familiar with seasons like that, so it makes sense that he seemed excited about the additions of Dan Byslma, Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner and so on. He praised Sabres GM Tim Murray’s work to USA Today on Friday.

“Look at the moves he’s been able to make,” Gionta said. “You can say you want a better team, you want to bring in better players, but for him to actually pull that off and make the moves he did, it shows that he means business. That excites guys in the locker room.”

Back when he was hired by the team in May, Bylsma said that he sees a bright future for the team, as the Buffalo News reported. Even so, one would guess that Bylsma, Gionta and possibly even Murray are all a little surprised by just how much progress the Sabres have made in mere months.

(They certainly don’t seem out of place on “most improved teams” lists like this one by NHL.com.)

Naturally, it’s not that tough to improve upon the disaster that has been the Sabres for the past two seasons – the phrase “historically bad” came up uncomfortably often – but it remains to be seen how much these moves will translate into results.

It might take some time, yet it’s also plausible that the rebuild will be more rapid than expected, a notion that isn’t lost on veterans such as Gionta.

(H/T to The Score.)