QUEENS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Former Sabres Captain Brian Gionta headlines the list of the players who will represent the Untied States at the 2018 Winter Games, USA Hockey announced during the Winter Classic.
Gionta who was named captain of team USA, who played three seasons with the Blue and Gold from 2014-2017, spent time practicing with the Rochester Americans in October to prepare for international competition before heading overseas.
“It just sent chills down my back you saying that,” Gionta said of representing the US again. “To be able to be at that level, represent your country it’s a dream come true. I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to do that many times. But it, at no time, lessen the effect of it. When you walk out of the tunnel with that jersey on, you still have that same feeling you had as a kid. To be able to do it at my age, I’m excited about the prospect of going over there and winning Gold.”
The 38-year-old winger played 15 seasons in the NHL, played more than 1,000 career games and combined for 588 career points. He also won a Stanley Cup Championship with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.
Gionta is no stranger to representing the Red, White and Blue. He first suited up for the U.S, at the World Junior Championships in 1998 and last played in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, where the Americans finished 8th.
“The team has to come together quick. A lot of it is getting guys together,” Gionta said. “The biggest obstacle is getting guys to gel and getting that chemistry early on that will carry us to the end.”
This year’s team will lack the superstar power of the NHL. In April the league announced it would not break the 2017-2018 season to allow players to represent their countries in PyeongChang. It’s the first time since 1998 NHL players will not be featured in the event.
“Obviously I think every kid who grows up playing hockey and following the international side of things wants to represent their country,” Jack Eichel told reporters on Sunday. “I’ve been fortunate to represent USA Hockey at other events. The big one is the Olympics. Every kid dreams of playing in the Olympics and I’m the same way.
“When we found out we’re going to be able to go to the Olympics, it’s tough. Not just me, but other guys whether they’ve had opportunities or are getting to the end of their careers. It only happens every four years so it’s something players really wanted to do but we couldn’t find a way to make it work.”
Sabres prospect Will Borgen will join Gionta as a member of the U.S. Olympic team.
Nichols grad (Getzville native) and member of the Isobel winning Buffalo Beauts Emily Pfalzer will also represent the United States in PyeongChang with the Women’s team.