After Scott Gomez of Anchorage retired last summer from the only occupation he had ever had – professional hockey player – he wanted to remain in the game, so he took a broadcasting gig with the NHL Network.
Gomez said he enjoyed TV work, and yet Alaska's most accomplished and celebrated player – the guy Anaheim Ducks center Nate Thompson of Anchorage called "the standard'' for Alaskans – nonetheless craved getting closer to the ice.
An opportunity to do so has arrived – the New York Islanders on Tuesday announced they have hired Gomez, 37, as an assistant coach.
Gomez landed the job after Islanders coach Doug Weight, like Gomez a former NHL center, recently touched base with Gomez to see what he thought about joining the coaching fraternity. Weight and Gomez were teammates for Team USA in the 2006 Olympics and the 2003 World Cup, and have remained in touch since.
Gomez said he flew to Seattle, where Weight was watching an Isles draft pick compete in the Western Hockey League playoffs, and interviewed with Weight. Gomez said he did not hesitate when Weight offered him a job.
"I'm glad I did the TV — it was wonderful,'' Gomez said by cellphone. "But coaching, at the end of it, it's still the closest thing we have to playing. I've got that spark again.''
Gomez said his precise duties haven't been finalized, but he believes the experience he gathered playing 17 seasons of pro hockey – 16 in the NHL – can be useful to younger players.
Gomez won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year in 2000 and twice won Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils (2000, 2003). He also endured the harder side of the game. He played for seven NHL teams, including five in his last four seasons. He briefly skated in the American Hockey League, one step below the NHL. And he absorbed criticism about his level of production in high-scrutiny markets like New York and Montreal when he played for the Rangers and Canadiens while on a seven-year, $51.5 million contract. He also twice played for his hometown Alaska Aces during NHL lockouts.
"I've seen it all,'' Gomez said. "I've been from the top of the heap to no one wanting me to play for their team, from the minors back to the NHL. I learned so much.
"Who knows? Next year you might be writing a story about how I hated (coaching). Or you might be writing a story about how I love coaching so much I want to do it for the rest of my life. I'm excited to get started.''
Happy-go-lucky and self-effacing by nature, Gomez said he often felt he was pigeonholed as a guy who got by on pure talent. Yet he considers himself a rink rat and a guy who has always picked the brains of coaches and players.
"I'm a student of the game,'' he said. "I might be one of the dumbest people off the ice. In the rink, I used my brain in this game.''
Gomez said Weight has been his teammate, friend and mentor. Weight became the Islanders' head coach on an interim basis last season, and general manager Garth Snow made him permanent head coach shortly after the regular season ended.
"When things were really great for me, and when things were really bad, he always took time to pull me aside and talk to me, and encourage me,'' Gomez said. "It's time for me to pay him back. Throughout his career, he was always class to me.
"I have one goal – give my all to Dougie Weight, Garth Snow and the New York Islanders.''