“It’s pretty special,” said Gionta, who led Montreal with 28 goals in his debut last season after signing a five-year, $25-million deal.
The 31-year-old native of Rochester, N.Y., added nine goals and six assists in 19 playoff games as Montreal advanced to the Eastern Conference final, the deepest the team had gone in the playoffs since winning a record 24th Stanley Cup in 1993.
“There’s no greater honor than to play for a franchise like this, and to wear the ‘C’ has got to be a great feeling for him, I imagine,” said Hal Gill, an alternate captain and fellow American. “He’s worked hard for it and there’s a long line of great players that also wore that ‘C’ and not everyone gets that opportunity.”
Gionta was asked how well he could speak French. Koivu, who is tied with Jean Beliveau for the longest tenure as captain in team history, was frequently called to task in the local media for his inability to address the Canadiens‘ French-speaking fans in their own language.
“Obviously, we came here, my family and I, and we’re embracing the culture,” Gionta said. “We enjoy living here in Montreal. It’s a great place to be and we’re going to do our best to learn it. I can’t make promises that I’ll be able to speak it fluently but I’ll try.”
Chris Chelios was the Canadiens‘ first American captain, sharing the post with Guy Carbonneau in 1989-90.