Gionta likely headed to the Olympics

The former Sabre played in one other Olympic Games

Paul Hamilton
September 25, 2017 - 7:02 pm

Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - It’s looking more and more like former Sabres captain Brian Gionta is going to play for Team USA in his second Olympic Games. Gionta was at HarborCenter on Monday skating with another former Sabre, Tim Kennedy.

Gionta wanted badly to come back to the Sabres to help finish the job, but Jason Botterill wasn’t interested. Now, Gionta is looking forward, “Still trying to weed through some things, but obviously the prospect of going to the Olympics is a positive as well, so right now, I’m focusing on staying in shape and being ready, looking towards the Olympics at this point barring anything different.”

When I confirmed with him that he’s going to play for the U.S. team he said “Yes, I’d love to be a part of it, but there’s still some things to get through, but as of right now, we’re still entertaining things, trying to weed through some things, but at this stage, things are tough and you’ve got to find the right fit for the family.”

Kevin Oklobzija reports that after Gionta spoke with me, he went home to Rochester and met with Amerks GM Randy Sexton and coach Chris Taylor. Playing with the Amerks could help Gionta get ready for the Olympics. If that were to happen, Gionta would sign an AHL deal, not a contract with the Sabres.

There were talks over the summer between Gionta, his agent and Jason Botterill. Gionta said it was all handled professionally, “No animosity, I don’t think it’s any secret that they made the trade (Pominville), so obviously at that point, things had changed on the depth chart for where I fit in, so they were great. Bots was great, gave me a call and discussed some things and where they’re at and I understand completely. I’ve been around the game a long time.”

Gionta is still sad he couldn’t finish it out. “I wish I could have been here, but at the end of the day it’s a business and you’ve got to move on.”

“There’s no hard feelings, at this point there’s no sense harboring anything. I still love being a part of the community, so we’ll move on.”

During his three years here, Gionta was a part of a major tank that saw them finish dead last to draft Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. It was the third season where things were supposed to come together and this team was supposed to challenge. Instead, they took a step back and things got worse. Gionta probably had his best season as a Sabre and he said he expected more, “Absolutely, when I came three years ago I for sure thought things were going to be a little different and I wish we were farther along and that’s a huge disappointment.”

“I wanted to see it through and find a way to break free into those playoffs and for sure that’s a disappointment.”

This was supposed to be the training camp where a couple of young players emerged to take a spot. Alex Nylander and Evan Rodrigues are hurt, while Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching and C.J. Smith have all failed to impress. Seth Griffith is still playing on a line with Sam Reinhart which is where one of the kids is supposed to be.

There still a little time for one of the kids to earn a spot. The Sabres have about $7 million in cap space available and if one of the kids doesn’t emerge, I would think that Botterill might want to revisit bringing Gionta back for a year instead of going with Griffith.

Another possibility for Gionta is finding an opportunity after the Olympics are over.

Gionta said he has a lot of great friends in the Sabres locker room and he will be cheering for them.

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