At 35, Anchorage's Scott Gomez still repeats the mantra his father drilled into him as a 19-year-old rookie trying to make the New Jersey Devils roster in training camp.
Only this time around, after 15 NHL seasons and nearly 1,200 combined regular-season and playoff games in the world's best hockey league, Gomez will try to hitch on with the St. Louis Blues, who Thursday announced they will bring Gomez to camp on a tryout.
"The mind-set, like my old man always says, is 'Go there and make them keep you,' '' Gomez said in a telephone interview.
This marks the second straight season Gomez heads to a training camp on a tryout. He did so with the Devils last year, they signed him about six weeks into the season and he delivered his most productive season in five years.
Gomez, who furnished the Devils 7-27—34 totals in 58 games, said he felt "reborn'' playing for New Jersey co-coach Adam Oates, the Hall of Fame center.
"I never, ever doubted what I could do on the ice,'' Gomez said. "I never lost the ability to move the puck, never lost the ability to skate. I know what I can do.''
Gomez, a first-line and second-line center much of his career, is more of a third-line or fourth-line pivot at this juncture. Still, Gomez, who owns 747 career points in 1,045 regular-season NHL games, can be particularly effective on the power play. And his average of 1.69 assists per 60 minutes played tied for 29th in the league last season.
Should Gomez make the Blues, he would be a salary-cap saver. He no doubt would play for near the league minimum -- $575,000 in the upcoming season – after making the minimum base salary of $550,000 last season. He has made more than $60 million in his career, so money is not an issue.
Gomez has connections with the Blues. Former Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, with whom Gomez won two Stanley Cups for New Jersey, is St. Louis' assistant general manager. And Blues assistant coach Kirk Muller was an assistant in Montreal when Gomez played for the Canadiens.
Gomez is currently in Florida skating and working out under the guidance of Vladimir Bure, his longtime trainer and the father of NHL Hall of Famer Pavel Bure.
"It's not a vacation,'' Gomez said.
He is following his summer routine. He comes home to Anchorage and works out under Louis Mass, the former Alaska Aces assistant coach, current UAA coach and Gomez's friend. Then he heads back to the Lower 48 and trains under Bure.
Gomez was one of five Alaskans, all from Anchorage, who played in the NHL last season. The others were defenseman Matt Carle (Tampa Bay), centers Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus) and Nate Thompson (Anaheim), and winger Casey Bailey (Toronto).
In the Blues' training camp, Gomez will run into Alaska connections. St. Louis' goaltending development coach is Ty Conklin of Anchorage, the only Alaska goalie to reach the NHL. Former Aces winger Evan Trupp of Anchorage also received an invitation on Thursday to St. Louis' camp. And in St. Louis' system are several former Aces, former UAF All-American defenseman Colton Parayko and goalie Pheonix Copley of North Pole.
Gomez's chances with the Blues could be enhanced by recent events. Center Jori Lehtera recently underwent ankle surgery, and the Blues on Thursday announced center-wing Patrik Berglund reinjured his shoulder and will undergo surgery Friday.
"We're bringing in Scott Gomez, who we talked to when I found out Lehtera was going to miss the first part of camp,'' Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He was a good player last year. He went through not having a job for the first portion of the season and then he ended up in Jersey. He played good as an offensive player, a power-play player.
"I think our team is certainly in a much different spot than Jersey a year ago. The challenge for Scotty is to come in and be a good player on a good team. That is sometimes harder than maybe the situation he was in last year.
"But you look at his resume, with the (two) Stanley Cups, he understands the challenge ahead of him. It's a pro tryout, so it's a very low-risk and potentially a solid reward.''
Gomez said he's focused on making the Blues his sixth NHL team. He has played for New Jersey, the New York Rangers, Montreal, San Jose and Florida.
"You want to go somewhere where you feel comfortable and trust everything they're saying, and get an opportunity,'' Gomez said. "It's not like being the new kid in school. I'm excited I still have a chance to play in the NHL.
"You put me in the right situation, I can play hockey.''
Alaska Dispatch Publishing