She remembers Draft Day like it was yesterday. That June day in 1998 in Buffalo at what was then called Marine Midland Arena. Brian Gionta wasn't supposed to make the NHL but there he was, being drafted by the New Jersey Devils.
Harvest was there that day. She's been there every day during her husband's hockey career. Monday night in KeyBank Center it was as much a celebration of 1,000 NHL games for her as it was for the current captain of the Buffalo Sabres.
"We joke around that it feels like yesterday that he was drafted then on the other hand, that part of our life feels forever ago," Harvest Gionta said. "He's been through three teams, he won a Stanley Cup, he's been to the Olympics, he's been captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Most importantly we have three children and then this circles back around and we end up back in Buffalo. So 1,000 games has covered a lot of life but on the other hand I remember him getting drafted like it was yesterday."
There has been a lot of life for Harvest and Brian, both Rochester natives who met while they were in high school at Aquinas. They've been together for 23 years and have three children – Adam (11), Leah (8) and James (4). And all that life hasn't been all unicorns and sunshine. Especially on the family.
"The sacrifice that they make is beyond anything that you could ever imagine," Brian Gionta said Monday morning before the Buffalo Sabres earned a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers in KeyBank Center. "The long nights, missing holidays. You miss a lot of stuff and to have the support from my wife and the kids, it allows you to come the rink and be ready to play and be fresh and not have that on your mind that you're missing things at home or she's upset with you for traveling for 10 days while three kids are sick at the house. It's those little things. It's huge the support from her.
"It's constant," Gionta said of the support he gets from Harvest. "She had to sacrifice her career. She was a full-time teacher when she decided to move to New Jersey with me. She had to give up a lot and she still gives up a lot. At times it feels selfish, that you're doing it to realize your dream. I’m thankful that we've gotten through."
Harvest doesn't see it as a selfish dream. She sees it as her family's way of life. "We're a team," she said, evident when she slips into saying "we played in New Jersey for eight years." She stops to laugh. "I say 'we' as if I was out there playing."
There's an incredible feeling of gratefulness for Gionta's career path, one that had him with only three teams – New Jersey, Montreal and Buffalo – over those 1,000 games. All of his moves came during free agency and were planned and negotiated. The Giontas did not have to uproot their family's life mid-season, or several times during a season, a reality for many NHL families.
"I don't think it's an accident. I think we've been very stable because of the type of player and person that Brian is," Harvest said.
"Every decision that we make is based on our family. So as hard as it is for him to be away so much, the kids miss him terribly. I miss him terribly. It's the team that we are, the life that we chose. He was lucky enough to play and I chose to support him knowing full well what that would be.
"A career playing is something that so few people get to do. And you only get to do it for a short term. It's not something you can go back to later. You can't go back to this when you're 50 and say, 'Oh I think I want to do this. I missed out.' You don’t have that option with this. So you want to take it and ride it as long as it's there because before you know it, it will be gone. I've always supported him, our whole family. We are a unit. Wherever he goes, we go and we make the best of every situation we've had to deal with."
The evening started with an official ceremony from the Buffalo Sabres honoring Gionta and his family on the ice with flowers, a painting and a silver hockey stick.
It continued with the captain scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers.
It concluded with his teammates wearing t-shirts in the locker room featuring a cartoon caricature of Gionta with 1,000th NHL games on the front and "Gio" printed on the back.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) March 28, 2017
"It was an emotional night," Gionta said after the game. "It was a great thing the organization did and my teammates being a part of it was pretty special. Seeing my family out there was pretty emotional. I was just happy to get through it and have them share in the moment.
"I was a little jittery those first couple of shifts but settled in a little bit."
The honor was a little uncomfortable for Gionta, who isn't a guy who puts himself out in the spotlight often, or at all if he can help it.
"I'm a guy that likes to stay behind the scenes," Gionta said. "I don't like to be out in front. For tonight, to be the focus early on for the ceremony, I mean I’m just a humble kid from Western New York. I just tried to take it all in."
Gionta has another honor on his resume, being named the Sabres nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as selected by the Buffalo chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The award is given each year for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Each chapter makes a nomination and the 30 names are entered into the vote for the honor. The trophy is presented at the NHL Awards ceremony in June in Las Vegas.
Gionta joked Monday morning about the guy in the other dressing room who had played in 1,700 games. "He's laughing at the thousand," Gionta said.
Monday was the 1,704th game in the career of ageless Florida forward Jaromir Jagr, fourth on the all-time list. Jagr was questionable after suffering an upper body injury Saturday but took the morning skate fully and was in the Panther's lineup Monday night in KeyBank Center.
Jagr has 763 goals, 1,146 assists and 1,909 points in a career that dates to 1990. He's second all-time in points (behind only Wayne Gretzky's 2,857), third all-time in goals (behind only Gretzky and Gordie Howe), and fifth in assists.
Thomas Vanek made his second appearance as a visitor in Buffalo this season – with his second team of the year. Vanek was acquired by Florida at the trade deadline from Detroit. Now 33, Vanek has 16 goals and 30 assists this season but just one goal and seven assists in 12 games for the Panthers.
"I was surprised actually how great of a setup it is in Florida to be honest with you," Vanek said Monday morning. "You hear how nice it is to live there away from the rink. But everything at the rink and how the players get treated, it's really been an eye-opener how great it is there."
Vanek will be heading into free agency this summer, and said both Detroit and Florida would be high on his list for a new deal going forward. The Panthers are his fifth team since the Sabres traded him to the Islanders for Matt Moulson in 2013.