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Gionta/Gionta: Stephen hopeful for Thursday

Arnott and Clarkson return to practice; Langenbrunner expects to face Habs

Wednesday, 12.1.2010 / 11:05 AM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Gionta\/Gionta: Stephen hopeful for Thursday
Stephen Gionta wears No. 14 like older brother Brian.
A special season for Devils forward Stephen Gionta could become even more memorable against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.

That’s when his older brother Brian returns to the Rock, setting up what would be the first time they've ever faced each other in a game.

Brian, of course, was a member of the Devils’ 2003 Stanley Cup championship and still holds the club’s single-season record for goals with 48. He departed for Montreal in 2009, and was named Canadiens captain at the start of this season.

Stephen, 27, is excited for the chance to face family. He has worn the same No. 14 sweater that Brian, 31, wore for seven seasons in New Jersey.

“Absolutely,” Gionta said. “Just the opportunity to play with or against an older brother, younger brother. It’s quite exciting and I think it’ll be a great experience.”

The Rochester, N.Y., natives took different paths to the NHL following their four-year stints at Boston College: Brian was New Jersey’s third-round selection, 82nd overall, in the 1998 Draft. Stephen was never drafted, but joined the organization by signing as a free agent with Albany (AHL) in 2006.

Stephen has four full seasons under his belt with New Jersey's top minor-league affiliate, and last year collected a career-high 34 points (15g-19a). Aside from being on the ice together for training camp, however, Stephen and Brian's paths at the pro level have never come this close.

“If I do happen to get in the lineup, it’ll just be a great experience,” Gionta said. “I was here with him for a couple of years in Jersey, and never had the opportunity to play with him or against him in my life. It would just be something special to share with him.”

Though it’s not a given that Stephen will face Montreal, he's hopeful. Jamie Langenbrunner is set to return from a neck injury after missing eight games, meaning a lineup decision will have to be made. Gionta shared fourth-line right wing duties with Alexander Vasyunov at Wednesday’s practice.

"It’s a great family, both are great character guys, but we’ll still make that decision in the morning of what’s best for the team," said head coach John MacLean. "Both would understand that also, being the character kids that they are."

The Devils (8-14-2) have won three of their last four, and four straight at home. Montreal leads the Northeast Division and carried a 15-8-1 mark into their home meeting with Edmonton on Wednesday. New Jersey captured a 3-0 win at the Bell Centre on Oct. 21.

When Stephen made his NHL debut against the Rangers on Nov. 5, the Giontas became the fifth pair of siblings in team history, joining Scott/Rob Niedermayer, Aaron/Neal Broten, Claude/Jocelyn Lemieux, and Patrik/Peter Sundstrom.

Stephen expects his parents and a cousin to be at the game, but there’s no telling who they’ll be rooting for.

“I don’t know,” Gionta said. “I think it depends on who’s on the ice at what time. I think my dad said my mom will be rooting for a tie, but unfortunately that can’t happen. We’ll see how the game goes tomorrow.”

Brian honed his leadership chops alongside greats like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur. In September he was named the 28th captain in the Canadiens’ 101-year history, becoming only the second American to hold the position.

Stephen thought it was well-deserved.

“He’s been a great leader, and he’s learned from the best here in New Jersey with Niedermayer and Stevens,” he said. “I think that’s a great honor to be named captain of the Canadiens organization. It’s great for him and I’m pumped for him, happy for him.”

Stephen wore the "C" for Albany before he was recalled this season, proving strong character runs in the Gionta family. It's a work ethic that can be traced back their family-owned hardware store.

“You can look back and say that,” Gionta said. “My father was a hard worker. He had his own business, partly so he could come watch us play. He’s at work every day, working hard. I think that just trickles down through the family and we just kind of learned from our parents and their hard work every day providing for us.”

-- Jason Arnott and David Clarkson were back on the ice today after missing Tuesday's practice.

Both returned to their regular lines: Arnott centered Patrik Elias and Mattias Tedenby, Clarkson skated on the right side of Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus.

Arnott had food poisoning and was unable to travel to Montreal for Monday's memorial service for Pat Burns. Clarkson was excused from Tuesday's practice for personal reasons.

Said Arnott: "I couldn’t even get out of bed. I’ve been in bed for three days now, pretty much solid through the whole time. It was brutal."

Today's lines:
Ilya Kovalchuk Travis Zajac Jamie Langenbrunner
Patrik Elias Jason Arnott Mattias Tedenby
Brian Rolston Dainius Zubrus David Clarkson
Rod Pelley Adam Mair Stephen Gionta/Alexander Vasyunov

Defense: Colin White-Henrik Tallinder, Andy Greene-Mark Fayne, Olivier Magnan-Anssi Salmela, Anton Volchenkov-Matt Corrente.

Johan Hedberg, Mike McKenna