Stephen Gionta has followed his in his brother Brian Gionta’s footsteps his entire life. The Devils right-winger plays the same position as his brother. They both attended Boston College, but the brothers never played together.
When Stephen signed his first AHL contract with the Devils, he hoped to finally play alongside his brother.
The opportunity never came.
But tonight, Stephen will get the next best thing: the opportunity to play against his brother. Brian Gionta and the Montreal Canadiens (15-8-2) play the New Jersey Devils (8-14-2) tonight at the Prudential Center.
“When he was here, I hoped that I got into a game with him, but now that he’s gone, the next best thing is playing against him and, hopefully, it will be a good one tonight,” Stephen said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record.
Despite playing the same position, the brothers are two different players. Brian is a goal scorer, lighting the lamp 187 times in his nine-year career. The Habs captain still holds the Devils’ franchise record for goals in a season (48).
Stephen lacks the scoring touch of his brother, serving as a fourth-line forward and penalty killer. Devils’ coach John MacLean believes Stephen’s recent play and defensive abilities keep him in the lineup.
“He’s played well,” MacLean said of Stephen. “He’s been doing a lot for us. He does his job and he kills penalties for us, so he’s going to play.”
The brother versus brother matchup overshadows an important game for the Devils. After beginning the season winless at home (0-5-2), New Jersey reeled off four straight home victories. The Devils shut down the two best offenses in the league, allowing two goals on 91 shots to the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.
The Devils defeated the Flyers, 2-1, in a shootout Saturday afternoon to extend their home winning streak to four games. Adam Mair began the scoring, converting on a feed from David Clarkson for his first goal of the season. The Devils held the Flyers scoreless until the third period, when Daniel Briere beat Johan Hedberg to tie the game. After a scoreless overtime, the team’s moved to a shootout, the Devils second in three games.
Nikolai Zherdev struck first, beating Hedberg five-hole in the fifth round. Jason Arnott answered right back, beating Brian Boucher to continue the skill competition. Mike Richards began the sixth round, and clanged his attempt off the crossbar. That left an opportunity for Travis Zajac, who buried his attempt high to the glove side for the game-winning goal.
Stephen Gionta and his teammates come into the game with a decisive advantage against the Canadiens. The team routinely beats Montreal and holds a decisive advantage over the Habs in recent years. New Jersey already beat the Habs this season, blanking them, 3-0, on October 21 at the Bell Centre. Zach Parise, Arnott and Matt Taormina powered the offense. Martin Brodeur stopped 29 shots for the shutout.
Even with all the numbers and statistics, the game tonight comes to one common thread: a sibling rivalry, the first of its kind for the Gionta family.
“To be able to play against Brian is an exciting thing and something we’ll be able to share together.” Stephen said. “The only time we skated together competitively was here in Jersey (in training camp in 2007 and 2008) and that’s it. It will be the first time. There’s a first time for everything.”