Scott Gomez goes for top NHL rookie honors
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Originally published on ElSitio.com in 2000
By Lucas Aykroyd
Scott Gomez of the New Jersey Devils has a knack for coming first.
The 20-year-old rookie center is the first Hispanic hockey player ever to appear in the National Hockey League. He has ranked first in New Jersey team scoring most of the season. And he looks poised to capture the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top first-year player.
Drafted 27th overall in 1998, Gomez caught the attention of New Jersey scouts with his passing skills and touch around the net. He didn’t crack the lineup at his first pro training camp. But after returning to junior hockey and scoring 108 points for the Tri-Cities Americans in 1998-99, he spent the summer working out five hours per day, six days a week with hard-nosed trainer Vladimir Bure, a former Olympic swimmer and the father of NHL goal-scoring leader Pavel Bure. The Russian taskmaster’s regimen paid off as Gomez reported to camp in fall 1999 at a solid 5-11 and 200 pounds. He made the team based on talent and hard work.
“He’s been a really nice surprise for us,” says veteran Devils winger Claude Lemieux. “Everybody knew he had a lot of talent, but it’s another thing to bring it to the NHL, and he’s been able to do that.”
Gomez hopes to inspire other young Latin-American players to follow in his footsteps. In the midst of the hectic 82-game NHL schedule, he responds to letters from kids who have seen a Hispanic role model with skates and a stick for the first time.
“If they see me play and they want to play hockey, that’s what it’s all about,” Gomez says. “You can only be yourself and have fun with it.”
The Anchorage, Alaska native appreciates the help he received from his parents when he was younger. However, Gomez did not get a typical hockey upbringing. His father Carlos was one of ten children born to migrant Mexican farmworkers in California, and he joined two of his brothers in Alaska during a construction boom. Gomez’s mother Dalia was raised by her aunt in Colombia, and they eventually moved to Brooklyn. Dalia lived in various parts of the U.S. before joining Latino friends in Alaska. Gomez’s father and mother met when she was a senior in high school and married shortly afterwards.
The cold Alaskan winters and the family’s limited resources gave Gomez ample opportunity to spend time honing his deceptive skating technique and wrist shot. Now he’s repaying the people he loves. And not just by accomplishing such feats as scoring his first NHL hat trick, which he did on December 26, 1999 with Carlos and Dalia in the stands at Madison Square Garden.
“Being in the NHL means actually being able to afford to give my parents a house, a car, and stuff like that,” Gomez says with a smile. He will earn $750,000 this year.
He has not forgotten his roots. Although he doesn’t get to speak much Spanish these days, he says he always heard it around the house as he was growing up. The family attended a Spanish church and participated in local cultural associations.
Today, he’s looking forward to taking a run at hockey’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. Although New Jersey has ranked near the top of the standings all year and boasts other talented scorers like Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias along with a solid defense core, Gomez refuses to get overconfident about his club’s playoff chances. “I think we’ve got a good nucleus of guys,” he says. “We’ll see what happens when the playoffs start.”
If he’s true to pattern, Gomez may soon be celebrating New Jersey’s first Cup since 1995.