Practicing with the Alaska Aces teased locked-out NHL center Scott Gomez.
Consulting on their power play proved rewarding, but not close to the excitement he would feel actually quarterbacking it in a hockey game.
Watching Aces games at Sullivan Arena only compounded Gomez's itch to play.
And when he joined Aces play-by-play man Josh Bogorad for a radio and television game broadcast recently, all Gomez could think was, "I want to be out there so bad.''
Wednesday, Gomez scratched his itch, signing to again play for his hometown Aces, just as he did during the NHL lockout of 2004-05, when he led the ECHL in scoring and was voted its Most Valuable Player by league coaches.
Gomez is currently in Las Vegas with the Aces, who are in the midst of a five-game road trip. He won't play the three games in Sin City -- Gomez said he needs a few practices first -- and expects to make his season debut with the Aces in a home game against the Colorado Eagles on Nov. 14.
Gomez, 32, had said for months he didn't intend to play for the Aces again. But he said being around the team, with no indication the current NHL lockout will end soon, and knowing he can't afford a prolonged absence from games as he gets into the back end of his pro career, all helped change his mind.
"Just practicing (during training camp) got the competitive juices flowing,'' Gomez said by cell phone from Las Vegas, where he paid his own way. "It was just time. I still love the game, still love playing and being back home.
"It was tough watching at Sullivan. It was a decision I couldn't hold off any longer. I wanted to play. It's what we do.''
Gomez said he had an offer to play in Russia, and other feelers from Europe, but felt more comfortable rejoining the Aces in the town where he was born and raised, where he still owns a home and where he returns each offseason.
He said he and the three other NHLers on the Aces -- winger Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus Blue Jackets), center Nate Thompson (Tampa Bay Lightning) and winger Joey Crabb (Washington Capitals) have played for the club since season's start -- appreciate having a hometown team they can help and that, in turn, can help them during the lockout.
"And the chance to play in front of family and friends again was just too much,'' he said. "Just to be home and have a team here -- we're so proud of that. There's no need to leave.''
Gomez, a two-time Stanley Cup winner and former NHL Rookie of the Year, is the most accomplished, most prolific and most compensated player among the 13 Alaskans who have played in the NHL. He is currently under NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
In 12 NHL seasons with the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Canadiens, he has played a combined 1,042 NHL regular-season and playoff games, and generated 785 points. He has made $45 million in NHL salary. Were it not for the lockout, he would be in the sixth year of a seven-year, $51.5 million deal he originally signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2007.
Aces coach Rob Murray said Gomez approached him last week about his interest in playing. They talked again earlier this week and struck a deal.
"We're extremely excited to have him,'' Murray said. "His playmaking ability is uncanny, watching him in training camp. He's just amazing.
"I think he'll really help our power play.''
Gomez, who will wear No. 23 for the Aces, said he needs to play games to stay sharp, especially as a guy entering his 14th season as a pro.
"We all know when you're in your 20s, you're unstoppable, but that's not the case now,'' he said. "I have to get my feel back for the game, and that's what games provide.
"(Another) reason I came on the road is to find my routine, to practice.''
At 32, Gomez becomes the oldest player on the Aces, which struck him as funny -- Gomez debuted as a pro in the NHL at 19, and has only played in the minor leagues during lockouts.
"That could be a first,'' he said with a laugh. "I don't think I've ever been the oldest on any team.''
Playing will actually cost Gomez money out of pocket. Before they can play in the ECHL, contracted NHL players are required to buy insurance against this season of their NHL deals, and published reports have estimated that can amount to roughly $25,000 for every $1 million in a deal for 2012-13.
In Gomez's case, he was scheduled to make $5.5 million this season with Montreal, according to capgeek.com, so he's likely looking at a six-figure insurance policy. The Aces do not reveal salaries of their players, but with an ECHL weekly salary cap of $12,400 per team, Gomez could not possibly make enough with the Aces to pay for his insurance policy.
As the lockout has lengthened -- the NHL has canceled all scheduled games through Nov. 30 -- more and more NHLers have gone to Europe to play. Some NHLers are playing in the American Hockey League, one step below the AHL. Also, NHLers are joining ECHL clubs -- earlier this week, Minnesota Wild winger Devin Setoguchi signed with Ontario Reign and San Jose Sharks winger Ryane Clowe signed with the San Francisco Bulls.
Gomez's signing does complicate one thing for the Aces. The ECHL considers him a "veteran'' -- each ECHL team is only permitted to play a maximum of four veterans in any game -- and that gives the Aces seven veterans. Besides the NHLers, defensemen Steve Ward and Sean Curry, and winger Matt Robinson are veterans.
Ward, the Aces captain, is out until at least January with a broken leg that required surgery, trimming available Aces veterans to six. Still, it appears Murray will have to juggle his veterans game to game.
Murray said Gomez is "invested'' in helping the Aces, and Gomez said he has goals in mind in his return to the club.
"First of all, to win,'' Gomez said. "That's always the most important thing. And also, I want to help these guys out, just like older guys have helped me out.''
Gomez's father, Carlos, an Aces season ticket-holder, said lately he could sense his son was getting eager to play.
"I did notice he was getting a little antsy, no doubt,'' Carlos Gomez said. "You can only work out so much. With the lockout, my hope is it's over soon and (Scott's signing with the Aces) is moot.
"He's 32, he's a big boy. It's his call and, God bless him, I'm 100 percent behind him.''
Scott Gomez said his biggest reason for returning to the Aces was simple.
"I play hockey,'' he said, "and I want to play.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY