Mention to Brian Gionta that he’s getting ready to enter his 16th National Hockey League training camp and he laughs.
It’s been a long and steady career for the 37-year old Rochester native now in his third year as captain of the Buffalo Sabres.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“Everything around training camp is prepping for the opening of the season so getting yourself mentally, physically ready for that opening night here against Montreal is how I approach it,” Gionta said in HarborCenter Wednesday morning. Sabres camp opens Thursday with physicals. The first on-ice session is Friday.
Getting himself ready physically means tweaking his offseason training to best have his body recover from the grind of the previous season, be primed for the next season and deal with the realities of those 16 NHL seasons.
“For sure, it evolves,” Gionta said. “You find things that work and what doesn’t work. As you get older you’re having to take care of your body a lot more than you used to when you were younger. Back then, you could take off certain things, but you really have to stay on top of mobility exercises, things like that, making sure you’re ready and fresh to go.”
The new season provides the proverbial clean slate. And while it is always a chance at a fresh start, this year marks an opportunity to build upon last year’s foundation. After a year of working with Dan Bylsma and his system, the players have more familiarity with their style of play, roles and responsibilities. They have moved past the hardest hill of the learning curve.
Then there’s the way the season ended. The team went 10-5-4 in March and April including winning three of their last four games. There were positives in that ending for Gionta, things he hopes carries over into the new season.
“Building off of how we finished last year, that’s exciting,” Gionta said. “Knowing what type of team we can be when we play, I think the challenge is trying to pick up where we left off last year.
“We were playing on top of teams. We were pressuring them hard. We controlled lots of plays. There were lots of times in games where we were controlling the play, stuff like that. We were playing a fast-paced, up-tempo game overall. Getting wins, so obviously we got rewarded for it.”
Camp hits the ice on Friday with the first three scheduled days announced at HarborCenter. Sessions are open to the public.
Each day’s schedule has three sessions: 9-9:45 a.m., 10:40-11:25 a.m., and 12:50-2 p.m. Each day also features a scrimmage from 9:50 to 10:35 a.m.
The schedule is subject to change.