Scott Gomez is back in the NHL, signs with Senators

The hockey odyssey that has taken Scott Gomez all over North America the last four seasons kept rolling Wednesday when the veteran center from Anchorage signed with the NHL's Ottawa Senators for the rest of the season.

Alaska's most prolific and decorated player — two Stanley Cup rings, 2000 NHL Rookie of the Year, more than 1,200 combined NHL regular-season and playoff games — will join his seventh team in the world's best league.

"The journey continues,'' Gomez said with a laugh Wednesday morning, speaking by cellphone from New York.

Gomez, 36, began this season with the NHL's St. Louis Blues and earned 1-7—8 totals in 21 games before they released him. He then signed a tryout agreement with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, the circuit one rung below the NHL on the sport's ladder.

For Hershey, Gomez racked 4-20—24 totals and a plus-13 rating in 18 games. Gomez on Tuesday opted out of his tryout deal with Hershey, which covered 25 games. He said Wednesday that he felt he accomplished what he wanted to in the AHL — prove he can still play at an elite level — but was not certain he could fully commit emotionally to continuing in Hershey and did not want to short-change the Bears.

"I didn't know if I could totally be into it mentally, and they deserve total commitment,'' Gomez said. "That was a hard decision because that organization, they were beyond first-class to me.

"I did what I wanted to do, enjoyed the fellas — it was great to be around young guys and help them — and I showed I can still play hockey.''

Still, Gomez said, he did not have an NHL job offer when he left Hershey. He said he awoke Wednesday to find his phone filled with messages from his agent and other people in the hockey world — Ottawa wanted him.

"There were messages everywhere,'' Gomez said. " 'What happened? What's going on?' It still hasn't hit me.''

Gomez said he was scheduled to fly to Ottawa later Wednesday. The Senators next play Thursday night, when they entertain the Tampa Bay Lightning, who include defenseman Matt Carle of Anchorage.

Gomez joins three Alaskans currently in the NHL — Carle, Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky of Anchorage and Anaheim Ducks center Nate Thompson of Anchorage. Gomez, Dubinsky and Thompson all played for the ECHL's Alaska Aces during the NHL lockout in the first half of the 2012-13 season.

The Senators said they signed Gomez for the NHL minimum salary — a pro-rated $575,000. Money is not an issue for Gomez, who has made more than $60 million in his career.

Gomez said former NHL center Adam Oates, who has served as his personal coach and an advisor, was influential in continuing his career.

"He said, 'You never know,' '' Gomez said. "That's what he kept preaching, 'You never know.' ''

Gomez's 755 points in 1,066 NHL regular-season games are the most by an Alaskan, as are his 101 points in 149 career playoff games.

Gomez in the NHL has played for the New Jersey Devils, the team that made him a first-round draft pick in 1998 and with whom he won Stanley Cups in 2000 and 2003; the New York Rangers; Montreal Canadiens; San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers and Blues. Now, he's Ottawa-bound.

"I never once doubted I can play in the NHL,'' Gomez said. "It's go time.''

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Doyle Woody

Doyle Woody covered hockey and other sports for the Anchorage Daily News for 34 years.