The 65th in our 118-part series.
There was a very brief period in our lives as hockey fans when we paid even the slightest bit of attention to college hockey (then we realized if we ever learned what the Pairwise system was our brains would explode) and that brief period happened to be when Brian Gionta was a senior at BC. Our biggest impression of the guy was that he was a Punk with a capital P. Cocky as all get-out and quick with a high stick and accompanying smirk when the other guy got called for it. We were confident that if a miracle occurred and he ended up on the big team, he’d surely have that punkiness beat out of him, replaced with Kool Aid-induced businesslike fair play. How little we knew of Brian Gionta, eh? Six years later he’s a key part of the top line, setting team records for goals, drinking the Kool-Aid to the point where he’s coming to camp without a contract — and yet, he’s just as much a punk. How else do you explain the fact that he’s 3 apples tall and yet he’s the only Devil who knows how to crash the net? (Wait, there are other explanations for that?) Every fourth or fifth shift from him seems to end in him giving the ref a stern look until a guy from the other team is carted off to the box to serve a penalty he didn’t commit, an event marked by Gio flashing his teammates his signature self-satisfied grin. But somehow this doesn’t turn into a Sean Avery love-him-on-your-team/hate-him-on-another situation, because Gio never mouths off or shows up the other team — he just plays like a guy who learned to be an NHLer in a dressing room run by Scott Stevens. Gio’s also one of the many Devils who plays best when he’s got a chip on his shoulder. Here’s hoping the need to prove he can produce on a Gomez-less top line is chip enough for our Little Ball of Punk to find his way back to the team-leading goal scoring territory.