Buffalo Sabres captain Brian Gionta is getting ready to join some pretty elite company. On Monday, barring anything unexpected, Gionta will play in his 1,000th career National Hockey League game, making him only the 312th player to accomplish the milestone.
The Rochester native will also become only the 43rd American to lace up the skates 1,000 times in the N.H.L.
"I've been fortunate to have been healthy and have a long career," Gionta told Sabres.com. "I think when I get out there it will be a little different but right now, it hasn't really sunk in."
Career at a glance:
It all started in 1998 when Gionta was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the third round [82nd pick]. Gionta finished his four-year career at Boston College winning a National Championship as the team's captain.
After college, Gionta played in the American Hockey League for the Albany River Rats but was called up to make his N.H.L. debut halfway through the season for the New Jersey Devils.
"[I'm] Just fortunate that some people believed in me back in the day, the Devils for giving me a chance to break into the league," Gionta added. "I never thought it would last this long, but I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Gionta spent seven seasons with the Devils and won a Stanley Cup in 2003. Statistically, his best season came in 2005-2006 [ the year after the lockout] when Gionta scored 48 goals, 41 assists, and 89 points, 29 more than he's had in any other season as a professional.
A few years later Gionta signed with the Montreal Canadiens where he would spend the next five seasons. In his second year with Montreal Gionta became only the second American-born player to captain the Canadiens.
On July 1, 2014, Gionta came home, signing a three-year contract with his hometown team, the Sabres. Before the start of the 2014 season, Gionta was named the team's captain.
"It's the team you grew up watching, " Gionta added. "You dreamed of being in the NHL, and to have lasted this long I would've never imagined and to be able to come here and play was pretty special."
High praise on and off the ice:
"You want to know how to be a professional? You want to know how to work? You want to know how to do it right? Just look at Brian Gionta." Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma told Sabres.com. "That's what I hope our young players look at and learn from and take to their own games."
"He's a good guy. If anything, he treats people with respect," Sabres and Canadiens teammate Josh Gorges added. "I think, in turn, he gains a lot of respect from the people around him. That's something, if you're a young guy, you look at. And respect it's a big word, but it's a big part of his game."
"He's a tremendous leader," Sabres forward Marcus Foligno told reporters. "He's, I think, the definition of a professional. That sums it up. The way he prepares, keeps his body in shape and is great in the community, great as a leader. Everyone in this room looks up to him. Tremendous amount of respect for the guy and it's an honor to be a part of his 1000th game."
Gionta is under contract with the Sabres for seven more regular season games. The 38-year-old has yet to say whether or not he'll retire, resign with the Sabres or look for opportunities elsewhere.
At the N.H.L trade deadline, Gionta received interest from other teams but asked Sabres General Manager Tim Murray if he could remain in Buffalo. Murray obliged, allowing Gionta to finish the season with the blue and gold.
But what exactly does the future hold?
"I don't know," Gionta said with a smirk on his face. "Like I said before, I am still loving what I am doing, and I still love coming to the rink, still love playing, so, we will just take it a year at a time from here."
The Buffalo Sabres will honor Gionta will a special pregame ceremony before Monday's game against the Florida Panthers. Fans are encouraged to get to the game early.