Brian Gionta had 35 points as captain of the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17. But after going unsigned in the offseason, rather than fight for an NHL roster spot, Gionta trailblazed a new plan. He approached the Sabres' AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, about signing a practice-only contract. Shortly after signing with the club (not technically an AHL deal), Gionta -- a Rochester native -- was named to Team USA's pre-Olympic hockey roster for PyeongChang 2018.  Gionta, who will turn 39 in January, is on schedule for .

With NHL players not going to the Olympics for the first time since 1994, Gionta, who turns 39 in January, is by far the most recognizable prospective player on the American roster. Gionta has played 1,006 NHL games, won a Stanley Cup and played in an Olympics (2006). Mark Stuart (673 NHL games), Tom Gilbert (655) and Ryan Malone (647), who are on European or AHL contracts, are also notable names on the pre-Olympic roster. Malone represented Team USA at the 2010 Olympics.

Gionta could join an NHL roster after the Olympics or next season. But at the moment, he's the face of this Olympic team, which he represented at Team USA's "100 Days Out" event in Times Square this week.

ThePostGame: Brian, I have to ask you, why?
BRIAN GIONTA: It's a chance to represent your country, it's a chance to win a gold medal and that's what drives you. As an athlete, the competitive nature and being a part of the sport, I still have it in me and I'd love to win a gold medal.

TPG: You look a chiseled 24. You are 38. You'll be 39 for the Olympics. You could try to make another NHL team, spend the season doing that, sign an NHL contract. You could retire. What will be your role on this team?
GIONTA: I'm not sure. I'm willing to be whatever. As an older guy, you're there for some experience, you're there to help calm things down and guys that have gone through it, guys who have been in that situation, you're able to expose the young guys, people who haven't been a part of it, you're exposing them to something you've been a part of.

TPG: You've played in multiple Olympics, you're going to see these young guys, what's your role them? Why be a guy on this team and not just let the young guys play?
GIONTA: You want to be a part of it, you're competitive. You're still part of...I don't care how old you are, you want to be out there playing, loving the game, having fun, at the same breath, you're showing that next generation of USA Hockey players, passing that torch.

TPG: If NHL players aren't playing in the Olympics, what sort of legacy can you leave as a veteran playing on this team?
GIONTA: I don't know. Just like I said, that experience, just being a part of the Olympics, being part of the NHL, something maybe only half those guys have gone through.

TPG: Is there a goal to be part of a 2018 playoff run with a team or play next season?
GIONTA: If opportunities arise, we'll look at them. We'll go from there, I guess. It's tough to say because you don't know what will be out there, but I'm interested in all things.

TPG: Who are you looking forward to meeting in PyeongChang?
GIONTA: I enjoy watching the skiing, the freestyle stuff. It's amazing what those people can do. That's the fun part for me.

TPG: If any artist could open for you at the Opening Ceremony, who would you want it to be?
GIONTA: I'm a big country guy, so Tim McGraw would be huge for me. Huge fan of his.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.

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