Scott Gomez of Anchorage is 33, an NHL veteran of 12 seasons who has skated in more than a 1,000 combined games in the world's best league and twice hoisted the Stanley Cup, yet Wednesday he sounded like an excitable kid again.
Less than two weeks after it seemed he might not be allowed to play hockey anywhere the rest of this season, Gomez is back in the NHL, courtesy of a one-year contract with the San Jose Sharks.
"Oh, man, it just feels like ages since I've played in an NHL game,'' Gomez said by cellphone from California. "It's like a rookie year kind of thing -- you can't wait to be in the NHL. It's still the dream.''
Gomez has been practicing and traveling with the Sharks for the last week, since Montreal bought out the last two years of his seven-year, $51.5 million contract.
Initially, a tentative new NHL labor agreement prohibited Montreal from buying out Gomez's contract until season's end. That's why the Canadiens dispatched him before training camp and prevented him from playing anywhere -- they said a long-term injury would prohibit them from buying out his contract. But a change in the terms of the final collective bargaining agreement that ended the lockout permitted teams to buy out one player immediately, so Montreal cut ties with Gomez and rendered him an unrestricted free agent.
Gomez said his agent, Ian Pulver, who once worked for the NHL Players' Association, was instrumental in pushing for the change that allowed the center to become a free agent and continue his career sooner than later.
"I can't stress enough -- he gets all the credit,'' Gomez said of Pulver. "He said, 'There's no way my client is not going to be playing hockey.' Ian was the one who jumped out and made it happen.''
The Sharks become Gomez's fourth club in the NHL. He won two Stanley Cups (2000, 2003) with the New Jersey Devils, and also played for the New York Rangers and the Canadiens.
With San Jose, he will wear No. 23, which he wore with the Devils and in two lockout stints, including one this season, with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL.
With two Stanley Cup rings, nearly a combined 800 points in regular-season and playoff games and one Olympics (2006) on his resume, the former NHL Rookie of the Year (2000) is the most accomplished hockey player from Alaska. Still, the last two of his three seasons in Montreal were unproductive, and with his enormous contract, he endured heavy criticism in a hockey-crazed market.
Gomez, the son of a retired union iron worker, said he was initially hurt to be jettisoned by Montreal -- "That lasted 10 minutes," he said -- and then was driven to show he still belongs in the NHL.
"I know I can play -- that's always been the case,'' he said. "My mom and dad, not for one moment did they let me feel sorry for myself. They were really positive. We're Gomezes -- we don't whine.''
A handful or more NHL teams showed interest in Gomez, he said, and he chose San Jose for several reasons. He said he believes the Sharks are a Cup contender, they possess a high-octane offense that suits his playmaking strengths and their associate head coach is Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson, who coached Gomez in New Jersey.
"I've always trusted Larry,'' Gomez said. "He's accomplished it all and his thing is, he's always looked out for his own. That played a huge part in it.''
Gomez's deal with the Sharks is for a pro-rated $700,000, but he hardly needs the money. His buyout from Montreal this season is an estimated $3.2 million -- that's pro-rated for his $5.5 million salary -- and the Canadiens owe him $3 million over the following two seasons. Gomez has made roughly $60 million in salary in his NHL career.
It is unclear when Gomez will make his Sharks debut -- San Jose's home opener is Thursday night against Phoenix -- and what role he will assume.
"We think of Scott as a guy who can add speed to our lineup, certainly has some tremendous puck skills and some poise with it," Sharks head coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News, adding Gomez likely will be helping on the power play.
When Gomez does play, he will become the fifth Alaskan currently in the NHL. Defenseman Matt Carle of Anchorage and center Nate Thompson of Anchorage play for the Tampa Bay Lightning, winger Brandon Dubinsky of Anchorage plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets and winger Joey Crabb of Anchorage plays for the Washington Capitals. Gomez, Thompson, Dubinsky and Crabb all played for the Aces during the lockout.
Gomez said Montreal is just a memory now and he's ready to help his new team.
"That's a chapter in my life that's done, and I don't look back,'' he said. "Life lesson. They aren't writing my story. This is my dream. I get the last word.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY