Rookie Gomez Leads Devils’ Run
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Scott Gomez didn’t waste time getting hold of the microphone at the Christmas party for the New Jersey Devils.
The celebration needed to get going, so the ever-smiling Gomez took over and became the master of ceremonies, DJ, comic and singer all rolled into one.
``He was great,″ linemate Claude Lemieux said. ``For a rookie to entertain our Christmas party the way he did was pretty awesome.″
Then again, why should Gomez be any different off the ice than on it?
The unassuming forward, the first Hispanic to play in the NHL, has been the Devils’ catalyst for what could be a record-setting regular season. But then again, this is a team known for in-season success followed by playoff failures.
Entering the weekend, the Devils had the league’s best record, and Gomez was not only their leading scorer, he was chosen to play in the All-Star game next month. The Anchorage, Alaska, native is easily the front-runner for the rookie of the year award.
``This has been one of those it’s-too-good-to-be-true kind of things, which I find frightening,″ Gomez said. ``I watched All-Star games as a kid with my buddies and now I’m going. It’s unbelievable.
``But that’s where my parents come in,″ he added. ``They’ve always said you have to take it day by day. You never know what’s going to happen. You have to have fun like today is your last day because you never know.″
While it might sound strange hearing a 20-year-old talk about seizing the moment, that’s what makes him such a potentially great hockey player.
Gomez loves the game. He’s got a smile on his face every time he’s on the ice. He’s also humble and cooperative with the media and fans.
Players laugh about how Gomez can sit in the dressing room and read a newspaper just minutes before a game.
``He’s just very laid back,″ veteran defenseman Ken Daneyko said. ``He just treats it like another day at the beach. Maybe that’s part of the reason for his success.″
Another reason is Gomez’s innate understanding of the sport. He seems always to know where the puck is going, where his linemates will be and what his opponents are going to do.
``He sees the ice so well,″ said Ben Brady, a junior goaltender at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., who played with Gomez when they were teen-agers in Alaska. ``He’s a solid player who doesn’t panic. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, and every time he’s on the ice he’s trying to prove something.″
Devils center Bobby Holik said that Gomez’s desire to succeed doesn’t translate into hogging the puck.
``He can score goals also, but I think his biggest asset is his playmaking,″ said Holik, who rarely skates on the same line with Gomez. ``I have played with a lot of good players, but I haven’t seen a rookie player who sees the ice the way he does.″
In a roundabout way, the credit for that might belong to Gomez’s father, Carlos. While he wasn’t much of a skater, he coached some football and baseball while working as an ironworker in Alaska. He stressed a team concept to his son.
``Scott would come home and say, `Dad did you see that goal?‴ Carlos Gomez said from Anchorage. ``I’d say, `Yeah, I saw the goal, and I also saw your buddy standing by the net waiting for the pass.‴
The younger Gomez would insist that the other player couldn’t score, so why pass?
‴Because you’re going to reach a league someday where everybody scores and you have to be able to pass the puck or you’re not going to play,‴ Carlos Gomez recalled telling his son. ``That’s why people like skating with him now. He likes to pass the puck.″
Carlos was one of 10 children born to migrant Mexican farmers in California. He never saw his father after the age of 10.
Scott’s mother, Dalia, was born in Colombia. She was taken from her mother early and raised by an aunt in Brooklyn in New York City, before moving to Alaska, where she met Carlos. They have three children, including two daughters.
``I’m still their kid,″ said Scott Gomez, who been playing hockey since he was 4, sometimes the indoor version that left holes in the wall of his parents’ small ranch house.
``If I don’t call for a couple of days, I’ll hear it from them,″ he added. ``They’re regular parents. They don’t want to talk about hockey, just whether my place is clean or I’m eating all right.″
For the Devils, things couldn’t be better right now. While they’ve been knocked out of the playoffs early the past three years, they’ve also played exceptionally well while retooling during that time.
Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk, Steve Thomas, Bobby Carpenter and Doug Bodger all have left or been released, and the team has adjusted to coach Robbie Ftorek, who took over for Jacques Lemaire.
Gomez and fellow rookies John Madden and Colin White have made contributions this season, and youngsters like Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott are among the team’s scoring leaders.
Add goaltender Martin Brodeur and defenseman Scott Stevens, and the Devils might be a lot tougher in the playoffs this year.
``There’s a lot to prove, but we feel we can get a lot better,″ Gomez said.
A run at the Stanley Cup would cap a great rookie season for Gomez, but there have already been so many memorable moments.
At a game around Christmas time, Gomez’s mother, Dalia, was approached by an Argentine man who asked if she was Spanish and why she was there. When she said to see her son, the man beamed.
``He said the only reason he was there was because of my son,″ Dalia Gomez said. ``His son wanted to see Scott Gomez.″
Gomez is proud of that.
``Being the first Hispanic, it’s cool,″ he said. ``Growing up in Alaska, it was never, `There’s Scott Gomez, the Mexican hockey player.′ It was always just, `Scott Gomez, the hockey player.′ As I got older, it became a bigger deal.″