By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
Scott Gomez was talking on a cell phone, the team bus rolling north on Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. It was late Monday night, and a long, long way from those reclining seats and 5-star entrees on the New Jersey Devils charter flights. Behind the Alaska Aces bus, they could still hear the thunderous weekend sellouts reverberating back in Anchorage, back where the favorite son had come home a hockey hero.
“I almost feel like a rookie again,” Gomez said with a laugh.
Gomez is playing in the ECHL, back to the bushes, and within a week on the job, everything he suspected has been validated. He will never feel a moment of regret for the $500,000 contract offers he turned down to spend the NHL lockout in Europe. Never. He will never regret choosing $500 a week job with the Aces and vending machines for room service. Truth be told, Gomez wishes everyone in the National Hockey League had the chance to return to their roots this way, to wear their hometown colors and listen to the longest, loudest ovations of their lives.
Gomez wishes everyone could feel the warmth of the spotlight in a place where there’s such cold and darkness.
“Alaskans take care of their own,” Gomez said. “And they’ve given me so much support through the years, I just thought this would be a way for me to give something back to them. I’ve been fortunate to play five years in the NHL, and never dreamed of making the money I have. I just wasn’t going to pass up the chance to play hockey at home.”
There was a moment on Friday night at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage when Gomez skated onto the ice before an opening-night sellout of 6,453 fans — they refused to stop standing and screaming. They refused to stop cheering for him. They refused to stop thanking his family sitting in the stands. They refused to stop tugging at his heart, the way they’ve done throughout his rise to stardom in the NHL.