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Chris Peters | | February 14, 2018

Boston College alum Gionta leads Team USA into the Olympics

It was a tough start for Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead through two periods, the U.S. dropped a 3-2 decision in overtime to Slovenia. Team USA collects one point with the overtime lost, but it will feel like a missed opportunity.

In short tournaments, adversity of some kind is a given. The fact that Team USA has not played together before, with all of the players gathering for six practices before Wednesday game, does not help either. It’s moments like these where the leaders have to step up. The U.S. has an especially good one in Boston College alum Brian Gionta.

At 39, Gionta is the oldest Olympic athlete in the entire U.S. delegation in PyeongChang. Over those 39 years, the Greece, N.Y., native has picked up an awful lot of relevant experience to what he’s tasked with now.

The player with the most name-recognition on the team, Gionta is also the only one to have previously played in an Olympics, having done so in 2006. He had four goals in the tournament to lead Team USA, which ultimately finished outside of the medals. He has not represented the U.S. in major international competition since that tournament 12 years ago.

While his Olympic experience is important, the years he’s logged in leadership roles is even more important. Having captained two different franchises – the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres – over a span of seven years, Gionta already knows the pressure that comes with the role. It usually doesn’t get much tougher than being captain of such a storied franchise as Montreal. He was also the captain at Boston College his senior season and has been a winner with both a Stanley Cup and an NCAA national championship to his name.

For much of his career, Gionta was a standout wherever he played. He appeared in 164 games at Boston College and collected 232 points. He was a three-time Hobey Baker finalist over that span. In his NHL career, Team USA’s captain appeared in 1,006 games and registered 588 points. His success should give him a level of credibility with his teammates that makes him even easier to get behind as their leader.

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Gionta’s job just got a lot tougher after such a bitter defeat. The loss to Slovenia certainly does not ice Team USA’s hopes in the tournament. The first three games are all about seeding for the qualification round. Win the qualifier and you’re into the quarterfinals and still alive for a chance at the medals. We’ll see if Gionta can help rally the troops in time for a big response following this tough result.

What you need to know about Team USA

Of the 25 players representing the United States in PyeongChang, 17 previously played collegiately, while four are current student-athletes. On top of that, the coaching staff includes all former college players, two of whom are current head coaches at the Division I level – Team USA head coach Tony Granato of Wisconsin and assistant coach Keith Allain, of Yale.

- In Wednesday’s game against Slovenia, former Yale standout Brian O’Neill had a goal and an assist. Current Boston University center Jordan Greenway scored Team USA’s second goal. Former Mercyhurst goalie Ryan Zapolski had 22 saves.

- Boston University is the best represented college team with four players, including three alumni – John McCarthy, Matt Gilroy and Chris Bourque -- and one current student athlete, Greenway. Yale is the next closest school with three players on Team USA – Mark Arcobello, Brock Little and O’Neill.

- Defenseman Matt Gilroy won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award while at BU in 2009. He is also joined on the team by his fellow 2009 co-captain John McCarthy, who is representing the United States for the first time at any level. Gilroy led all U.S. players with 26:26 of ice time.

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- While there are no Wisconsin alumni or current players on the team, there is a heavy Badger influence. Head coach Tony Granato, who played in the 1988 Olympics after a four-year career at Wisconsin. Chris Chelios spent two years at Wisconsin before joining the 1984 Olympic team and is on the staff as an assistant coach. Lastly, Team USA’s general manager is the late Jim Johannson, who played in two Olympics after four years at Wisconsin himself. Johannson, who passed away unexpectedly on Jan. 21, has not been replaced as the team’s GM and will be recognized in all official records as such.

NCAA well represented outside of Team USA, too

While Team USA is loaded with college players, there are several more throughout the tournament. That includes North Dakota sophomore Ludvig Hoff, who is currently playing for Norway in PyeongChang.

Among the alumni representing other countries, here’s how it breaks down:

Canada (9)

Rene Bourque (Wisconsin), Andrew Ebbett (Michigan), Chay Genoway (North Dakota), Cody Goloubef (Wisconsin), Chris Lee (SUNY-Potsdam), Mason Raymond (Minnesota Duluth), Mat Robinson (Alaska Anchorage), Ben Scrivens (Cornell) and Karl Stollery (Merrimack)

Korea (3)

Matt Dalton (Bemidji State), Brock Randunske (Michigan State), Mike Testwuide (Colorado College)

Sweden (2)

Erik Gustasson (Northern Michigan), Viktor Stalberg (Vermont)

Slovakia (1)

Milos Bubela (Rensselaer)

Slovenia (1)

Luka Vidmar (Alaska Anchorage)

Basically, if you’re a college hockey fan, there are plenty of familiar names and faces to follow outside of the U.S. as well.

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