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Gionta making most of opportunity

Friday, 05.18.2012 / 9:46 AM ET / Features
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Gionta making most of opportunity

Being a 28-year-old AHL player in the New Jersey Devils organization requires great patience, especially when your last name is Gionta.

That virtue finally is paying off for Stephen Gionta, who after six seasons with their American Hockey League team has contributed to the Devils' run to the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers.

Described as undersized, undrafted and an underdog, Gionta tried to be undaunted when he got his first shot in New Jersey last season. But in a 12-game NHL run he failed to register a point, and in his last game, a Dec. 4, 2010 loss in Philadelphia, he played only five shifts before being sent back to Albany. Entering this season, Gionta was looking for another shot.

"Every year you hope it's going to happen. You work hard over the summer and try to earn a spot. If it doesn’t happen, you just have to keep working hard and hope you get that break," Gionta told NHL.com. "It takes a lot to get to this level. You need the right timing and the right personality. Luckily enough, management gave me a shot coming into the playoffs."

It took the entire season, but the speedy forward finally got that shot -- in the Devils' final regular-season game, against Ottawa. That day, after scoring his first NHL goal -- the eventual game-winner -- Gionta's second chance in the NHL already was looking better than the first.

With 14 games played this postseason, Gionta has skated in more Stanley Cup Playoff games than regular-season games. He has two goals, two assists, and a plus-4 rating in 14 games on the team's fourth line, playing mostly alongside Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier, two other players who started the season under difficult circumstances.

In the fall, while Gionta was starting another AHL season, Carter was waived by the Florida Panthers and Bernier signed with New Jersey's farm team, his fifth club in five years.

After finding a new lease with the Devils, the unit has provided energy and some offense, including Carter's game-tying goal in Game 2 against the Rangers.

"We just try to go out there and work hard," Gionta said. "I try to create stuff down low and hopefully get some bounces to contribute."

The path to the conference finals has been unique for Gionta, especially with a team on which his older brother casts a long shadow -- even if he is only 5-foot-7.

In seven seasons with the Devils before signing with Montreal, Brian Gionta won a Stanley Cup and established a franchise record with 48 goals in the 2005-06 season. Before that, Brian starred at Boston College, captaining the team to the 2001 NCAA championship. By the time Stephen arrived at BC in 2002, the Gionta name already was legendary.

"We had seven sets of brothers over the last 10-12 years. It hasn't been a rivalry, more just wanting to add to the family name," said Jerry York, who coached both Giontas at BC. "The story is really about the family. It's remarkable. We had Brian for four straight years, then Stephen for the next four years. Their parents came to every single game, driving six hours and right back afterwards for six hours. I just can't imagine."

Despite following Brian at BC and in New Jersey, Stephen Gionta said he's never felt any added pressure.

"We're different styles of player," he said. "I don't think there's ever any pressure coming up behind him at all. And he never put any pressure on [me]. I talk to him regularly, almost on a daily basis. Just seeing how the family is doing."

For one Devils veteran who has played with both Giontas, the similarities and differences are readily apparent.

"They look alike," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "He [Stephen] has been tremendous. He's doing a hell of a job for us. He puts a lot of speed in the middle of our fourth line."

"Watching Stephen play, he's getting better and better," York said. "After four, five years in the AHL, if you don't make it you have to think about a career in business or education. But now he looks like he belongs."

Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 248 187 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 214 184 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 259 206 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 237 199 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 245 224 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 231 211 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 232 208 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 217 204 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 209 201 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 198 213 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 227 248 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 212 223 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 176 209 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 183 219 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 206 257 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 153 269 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Henrique 75 16 27 -6 43
M. Cammalleri 68 27 15 2 42
P. Elias 69 13 21 -20 34
S. Gomez 58 7 27 -10 34
S. Bernier 67 16 16 2 32
T. Zajac 74 11 14 -3 25
A. Larsson 64 3 21 2 24
A. Greene 82 3 19 1 22
E. Gelinas 61 6 13 -2 19
M. Ryder 47 6 13 -1 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 26 31 9 .925 2.26
K. Kinkaid 6 5 4 .915 2.59