WILMINGTON — With Thursday’s news that former Boston College  superstar Brian Gionta would be named captain of the Montreal Canadiens , it seemed as good a time as ever to reminisce on his fantastic college career. Except for Nolan Schaefer.
“I remember I had a few nightmares with him,” Schaefer, a goaltender at Providence college in Gionta’s final two Hockey East years, said with a grin Thursday following captain’s practice.
Gionta racked up 123 goals over his four-year career at Boston College, much to the chagrin of his Hockey East foes. Told Thursday that Gionta, now 31, would become the Habs’ captain, Schaefer didn’t seem surprised by the success Gionta’s been able to have, especially given his college dominance.
“He seemed to be developed already at the college level. He was already playing on a pro level,” Schaefer said. “He was way above most guys you’d play against skill-wise, not to mention he had a pretty decent team at BC. We were sort of outmatched. It was a tough time. ‘¦ Every time you played him, you had to make sure you knew where he was on the ice.”
Schaefer pointed to the 2000-2001 season, one in which Gionta was named Hockey East Player of the Year and led the Eagles past the Friars in the Hockey East championship, as an example of the undersized forward’s prowess at the college level. In that eason, Schaefer posted a 2.47 goals against average in 25 games, but much of the attention of remained on Gionta, who tallied 33 goals.
A third-round pick by the Devils, Gionta, at 5-foot-7, has been one of the shortest players in the NHL  since entering the league in the 2001-2002 season. That knock, which came up often in his college days when projecting his NHL  chances, never stopped Gionta. Even before the post-lockout NHL came about, Gionta could hang his hat on starting in the Stanley Cup  finals in 2002-03 and having a 21 goal 2003-04 season. Since the lockout and the “new NHL” giving more of an advantage to speed guys, Gionta has average 28.6 goals a year despite playing 62 and 61 games in 2006-07 and last season, respectively. He notched a career-high 48 in 2005-06.
“Before, I could see where [size] could be a problem with the old rules. There was no way you could break past those bigger guys,” Schaefer said. “Now, with the new rules, you can’t put your sticks up, there’s no holding and clutching and stuff, so speed and skill is definitely going to transcend that size [issue].”
Gionta will be just the second American-born captain in the history of the franchise, joining Chris Chelios , who co-captained the team in 1989-90