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Brian Gionta says captaincy is an honor

There are certain jobs in pro sports that are just more special -- shortstop for the New York Yankees, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and captain of the Montreal Canadiens.

"Thanks," Brian Gionta said with a laugh over the phone when I reminded him of this.

But he added, of course, that it was a huge honor. Players always say that when they get the "C", but in this case, you could sense Gionta wasn't sputtering clich├ęs. He gets it. Captain of the Habs. Following in the footsteps of players like Bob Gainey, Yvan Cournoyer, Jean Beliveau and Rocket Richard.

Gulp.

Like Gainey, Gionta isn't the rah-rah type leader.

"More the quiet, lead-by-example type," Gionta told ESPN.com. "Obviously, if something needs to be said, it'll be said. But it's more lead by example."

The 31-year-old Gionta cut his NHL teeth in New Jersey, where he said he learned a lot from former Devils captains Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer. But he also mentioned another important influence during his time in New Jersey that might surprise you.

"Joe Nieuwendyk wasn't the captain, but he was instrumental in the year and a half that he was there," Gionta said. "It was pretty much the start of my career. He really took me under his wing and showed me how to be professional. His influence for sure is huge."

Nieuwendyk always stood for class and integrity as a player, and those qualities will be important for Gionta in Montreal. Being captain of the Habs is an honor, yes, but it can also be a minefield because of the political undertones in the city and province. Just ask Saku Koivu, who, during his first news conference after nearly losing an eye in a playoff series against Carolina, was asked by a reporter why he hadn't learned French yet. Mercy.

Not only is Gionta not French-Canadian, he's not even Canadian. But the native of Rochester, N.Y., said he's embraced, along with his family, the unique fabric of his current place of employment.

"The culture is great here," he said. "When we came here, we knew it was a multi-cultural place and we wanted to embrace it as much as we could. My family and I want to learn as much as we can about it while we're here and want to make it a real valuable life experience."