After 12 years away, former NHL player Brian Gionta sets sights back on Olympics

Hockey veteran Brian Gionta has some unfinished business at the Winter Olympics. 

The 38 year old, whose career in the NHL spanned from 2001 to 2017, is eager to return to the world stage and have a shot at winning an Olympic medal with Team USA. 

SEE ALSO: Young Olympic hopeful Nathan Chen credits his success to his mom

"Every kid, as a hockey player, dreams of playing in the NHL," he told AOL.com. "The other thing you dream of is playing in the Olympics." 

"I don't care what kid you are, you watch the Summer or Winter Games, you sit down for those two or three weeks and you watch it nonstop."

Gionta, who won the 2002-03 Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils early in his career and holds the team's record for most goals in a season, last played in the Winter Games in 2006. Though he jokes that his age ("I'm much older now") is the main thing that has changed since then, the real elephant in the room is the NHL's new stance barring its players from competing in the Olympics. 

"In 2006, there were NHL guys," the Rochester, New York, native recalls. "We came over and disrupted the season. This year will be a little different format, a little longer experience for us." 

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Brian Gionta through his career
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Brian Gionta through his career
USA's Brian Gionta celebrates his first peiod goal against Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Winnipeg, December 31. SB/ELD
New Jersey Devils center John Madden (L) celebrates with linemates Brian Gionta (C) and Jay Pandolfo after he beat Montreal Canadiens goalie Stephane Fiset for the first goal in the first period April 12, 2002 at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine RFS/SV
New Jersey Devils Brian Gionta (C) and Anaheim Mighty Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (R) watch as the puck come out of the net after a goal by Devils Jeff Friesen during second period action in Game One of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals in East Rutherford, N.J., May 27, 2003. Pictures of the month May 2003 REUTERS/Brian Bahr/NHL Images/POOL GMH
Pittsburgh Penguins players surround defenseman Sergei Gonchar (L) as New Jersey Devils winger Brian Gionta (R) skates away after Gonchar scored the winning goal in the sudden death overtime period of their NHL game in East Rutherford November 1, 2005. Penguins won 4-3. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine
Brian Gionta of the U.S. celebrates his goal during the first period of their men's ice hockey game against Latvia at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, February 15, 2006. REUTERS/Shaun Best
New Jersey Devils Brian Gionta (R) and Patrick Elias celebrate Elias' goal to beat the Calgary Flames 1-0 in overtime during their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, December 23, 2007. REUTERS/Patrick Price (CANADA)
Montreal Canadiens' Brian Gionta looks to shoot against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Tampa, Florida December 30, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Carlson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)
Montreal Canadiens Brian Gionta laughs after being named as the team's 28th captain in Montreal, September 29, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)
Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta takes a shot during the third period of NHL hockey action against the Nashville Predators in Montreal, November 18, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)
Montreal Canadiens forward Brian Gionta celebrates his goal with Yannick Weber (R) during the first period of their NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto April 9, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)
Montreal Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec of Czech Republic celebrates his power play goal with teammates Yannick Weber of Switzerland and Brian Gionta (R) during the first period of their NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings in Los Angeles December 3, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)
Montreal Canadiens' Brian Gionta (L) and Winnipeg Jets' Evander Kane push each other during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Winnipeg April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)
Mar 5, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Montreal Canadiens right wing Brian Gionta (21) celebrates with center Alex Galchenyuk (27) after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the first period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 15, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Trevor Smith (23) tries to block a pass by Buffalo Sabres right wing Brian Gionta (12) during the second period at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Buffalo Sabres right wing Brian Gionta (12) celebrates his goal with teammates during the first period against Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Tyler Ennis (63) and right wing Brian Gionta (12) celebrate a power play goal by Gionta against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at the PPG PAINTS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Olympic hockey players Brianna Decker and Brian Gionta take part in an event in Times Square to celebrate 100 days from the start of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea, in New York, U.S., November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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"When I was lucky enough to [go] in 2006, it was a dream come true," he said. "Having the opportunity to possibly do it again is just unreal. At my stage in my career, at my age, you can take in more, experience more and really appreciate it for what it is."

Gionta is listed as a free agent in the NHL and most recently played for the Buffalo Sabres, where he served as a captain. He is currently signed to the practice squad for Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.

As far as his next career move after PyeongChang 2018, the right winger says he's "open" to returning to the NHL. 

"There's no real set plan," Gionta said. "If a team came calling, I'd have to think about it and see from there."

To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Winter Olympics begin February 8. 

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