By Andrew Miller
Of The Post and Courier Staff
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Robin Gomez doesn’t consider himself to be a tough guy. Now, Moe Gomez, Robin Gomez’s 54-year-old father, he’s tough.
The same could be said of Gomez’s 88-year-old grandfather — Darrow Gomez.
“My dad’s a tough guy. My dad is probably the toughest guy I know, he still kicks my butt,” Gomez said. “My grandfather’s pretty tough, too. Those are tough guys. Me, I don’t know, I don’t see myself as a tough guy.”
Few East Coast Hockey League players who have seen the Prince Rupert, British Columbia native in action, would agree with the 21-year-old’s self-assessment.
“Gomez? He’s tough, no doubt about that,” one recent combatant said. “He’s strong. He’s pretty good with either hand. He can take a punch, too. I hit him pretty hard, but it didn’t seem to faze him. He just kept coming back at me. He’s a pretty honest player, too. He’s not an idiot out there. He’s not running guys or dropping his gloves every shift.”
Gomez, a rookie, has quickly established himself as one of the elite enforcers in the ECHL. The 6-1, 210-pounder has had some heavyweight bouts against some of the league’s top tough guys. None was bigger or better or longer than last Tuesday night’s fight against Peoria defenseman Anthony Belza.
Midway through the first period, Belza and Gomez dropped their gloves and went toe-to-toe, literally exchanging punches during a two-minute marathon.
“I’ve been in this league as a player and a coach for almost seven years and I can’t remember a better fight than that,” South Carolina coach Jason Fitzsimmons said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I didn’t think it was going to end. I walked off the ice in the first period and I told (Gomez) that that was the best fight I’d ever seen in this building — and maybe ever.
“We timed it on the video tape and it lasted two minutes and 10 seconds. It was amazing. But he’s had a lot of big-time fights. He’s been in some real heavyweight bouts this season.”
More than once during the fight, referee Chris Brown and linesmen John O’Brien and Terry Wicklum tried to break up the encounter.
“They asked if we wanted to stop a couple of times,” Gomez said. “We both said no. I think as the fight went on, neither of us wanted to stop it. Neither of us wanted to be the one that backed down.”
When the fight finally ended, Gomez skated to the penalty box to a standing ovation with bloody knuckles and a red face.
“That’s as tired as I’ve ever been,” Gomez said. “I can’t remember ever being that tired during a game. I was pretty much done after that.”
His brawl with Belza was typical for Gomez this season.
“When Robin drops his gloves you know there’s going to be some action,” Fitzsimmons said. “He’s tough as nails. He fights tough guys. He doesn’t go after goal-scorers. He’s a heavyweight. I think if the fans were to vote on a fan favorite, Robin Gomez would be near the top of the list. He’s earned everything he’s got.
“He’s an enforcer, but he plays with a lot of heart. If someone on our team, a Dave Seitz or Mike Jickling, gets cross-checked, he’s going to take some action. And that’s not because it’s his job, it’s because he cares about everyone in that locker room. He gets genuinely ticked off about it. He’ll go through the wall for any of his teammates and they respect him for that.”
But Gomez is more than just a boxer on skates.
Gomez has provided an offensive flair that has exceeded Fitzsimmons’ expectations.
In 61 games, Gomez has 11 goals and 16 assists.
“He’s got very soft hands,” Fitzsimmons said. “I was surprised at just how soft. He’s got 11 goals and for a guy that doesn’t get a lot of ice time, that’s awesome. His offensive game is a lot better than I thought it would be.” Fitzsimmons has rewarded Gomez’s hard work with some time on the Stingrays’ power play.
“Sometimes the power play isn’t about the most skilled guys,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s about the guys that do their jobs and get things done. Robin stands in front of the net, takes a beating, and screens the goalie. He does that and then battles for the rebounds. We’ve got two rookies and right now, Robin’s our rookie of the year.”
Fitzsimmons sees a bright future for Gomez.
“He’s a prospect,” Fitzsimmons said. “I think he’s got a chance to play at the next level. The one knock on Robin was his skating and I think that has improved by leaps and bounds this season. He’s made a mark around the league this year. He’ll get a look sooner or later.”