By Adam Kimelman
© 2005 The Times of Trenton
HAMILTON, N.J. – It didn’t take long for Scott Gomez to learn just what he was in for.
The Devils forward, playing for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL during the NHL lockout, was at Ice Land yesterday watching his teammates get ready for Game 3 of the National Conference finals against the Titans Saturday.
Gomez is watching, rather than playing, after suffering a hairline fracture of his pelvis during the Aces’ National Conference semifinal series against Bakersfield.
Even though he won’t be able to get on the ice for a minimum of four more weeks, Gomez said yesterday he’s had a great time playing for his hometown team.
His performance reflected that happiness. He posted league-highs with 73 assists and 86 points, and was named league ECHL MVP. He had a goal and three assists in four playoff games before getting hurt.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “The hockey is just amazing. There’s a few guys here I think that have a shot to play in the NHL. It was a lot better then I expected.”
Most important, he said, was the chance to play in his hometown.
“I wanted to give back to where I’m from, wanted to give back to my community,” he said. “I didn’t even really look at it as what did the league have to offer me.”
It’s a good thing, because he said if he thought too hard, maybe he would have found somewhere else to play.
Maybe it was the three-games-in-three-nights sets. Or the long bus rides. Or the road trips that started with a three-hour flight from Anchorage to Seattle, then took off from there.
“The guys back in Jersey definitely can’t call me a silver-spooner any more,” Gomez said with a chuckle.
As for his welcome-to-the-ECHL moment, it came in the season’s opening series, a three-day weekend home set with San Diego.
“My first series was three-in-three, and my first thought was no way are they going to make me play Sunday,” Gomez said with a chuckle, “but that’s when I figured I was one of the boys.”
He played that third night, then embarked on one of the Aces’ grueling road trips. Here’s how he tells the story:
“The first road trip, we leave on Monday at 6 in the morning, we fly to Seattle, then we fly to Los Angeles. The bus was about two hours late, then it was 2 1/2, 3 1/2 hours to Bakersfield, we play the next day, get absolutely killed.
“Then we go down to San Diego (236 miles, by bus), play that night, bus back up to Fresno (341 miles), play two games there, then bus to Vegas (391 miles), stay there for three days, bus to Long Beach (276 miles).”
Gomez got worn out just telling the story.
“I think Dano (former teammate Ken Daneyko) called me, and I’m in shock. I said, `I don’t know if I did the right thing.’ ”
But months later, Gomez can laugh while telling the story. He said even the times like when the team stayed at a Holiday Inn in Fresno and the players were advised not to stray too far from the grounds, were fun in their own special way.
For Gomez, the only disappointment came in the way his season ended. Gomez was stepping onto the Aces’ bench during Game 4 of Alaska’s series with Bakersfield when Ashlee Langdone drilled Gomez from behind, driving him into the open bench door.
Langdone claimed the hit was unintentional, but the league suspended him eight games. For Gomez, it really didn’t matter.
“Freak accidents happen, it’s part of sports, but I don’t know if you’d call it a freak accident,” he said. “It was more a chicken(expletive) thing. The door’s open. I know its the playoffs, you get away with stuff, but anything from behind is off-limits, and then the door’s open. You can call it a freak accident, but it didn’t have to happen.”
As if missing out on the playoffs wasn’t enough, Gomez said he had been hoping to play against the Titans all season.
“It was disappointing especially because we’re playing Trenton. Even during the year, I was praying we’d be playing in Jersey.”
He’s back in New Jersey now; where he goes next is unknown. With NHL labor talks moving at a glacial pace, Gomez said he has options, including a return to the Aces, but Alaska fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
“Hopefully the NHL will be back and that decision will be made for me,” he said. “But this could have been a one-and-done thing for me.”