The Alaska Aces scored a roster hat trick Friday when they announced that three Alaskans sidelined by the NHL lockout will skate for their hometown professional hockey team.
Scott Gomez, 32, of the Montreal Canadiens, will join Joey Crabb, 29, of the Washington Capitals, and Nate Thompson, 27, of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Aces sweaters until the NHL dispute is settled. Fans will get their first chance to see the locals skate on Sullivan Arena ice Oct. 8-9, when the Aces host the Las Vegas Wranglers. The games are fundraisers for the local fight against breast cancer; they’re played on pink ice and dubbed "Paint the Rink Pink."
For Gomez, this will be the second time he's skated for the Aces of the ECHL during an NHL lockout. Last time, during the 2004-05 season, he played spectacular hockey, leading the league in scoring (13 goals, 73 assists) en route to a division championship and being named the ECHL’s Most Valuable Player. Gomez’s roots in Anchorage extend back to when he led the East High Thunderbirds to a state championship as a high school sophomore. He was twice named Alaska High School Player of the Year.
From there, he went on to become one of the most successful professional athletes to ever come out of Alaska, winning two Stanley Cup trophies with the New Jersey Devils. In some 900 career NHL games, Gomez has scored 686 points. But last season was a disappointment in Montreal. Gomez scored a career-low two goals and adding just nine assists while playing in 38 games. Before being traded to Montreal, Gomez played two seasons with the New York Rangers after signing a fat seven-year $51.5 million contract following seven seasons in New Jersey.
His performance in Montreal has earned him plenty of criticism. Montreal columnist Taylor Shire earlier this year said Gomez should be shipped to Montreal’s lower-level AHL affiliate:
“When the Canadiens traded for Gomez in 2009, they inherited his contract and expected him to be a first-line player night in and night out. Instead, they got an under-performing, soft forward who should not be making $7 million, let alone playing a regular shift for the Canadiens.”
Both Crabb and Thompson outscored Gomez last year. Crabb played with the Toronto Maple Leafs after being called up during the season, notching 11 goals and 15 assists in 67 games. He played one season at Dimond High before leaving Anchorage at age 16 to play in the Lower 48. He signed a one-year contract worth $950,000 with the Washington Capitals during the off season.
Thompson is entering his eighth season of professional hockey, a career that includes 265 NHL games, where he scored 23 goals and added 31 assists. Last season with Tampa Bay, he talled nine goals and six assists in 68 games. He was in the first year of a two-year $1.8 million contract.
The Aces begin the regular season on the road before returning to Sullivan Arena on Oct. 19 for their home opener.