|Scott Gomez has found old form in second tour in N.J. |
NEWARK, N.J. -- Scott Gomez
was close to working in television this season as an analyst for the MSG Network. Instead he's centering one of the New Jersey Devils top-two lines and has been producing at better than a point-per-game pace since the calendar turned to 2015.
"He's been, for a lot of people, a pleasant surprise," Devils forward Patrik Elias said.
Gomez met with producers from the MSG Network prior to the season at the suggestion of Ken Daneyko, who is in his first season as Devils television color commentator. Gomez was interested in what they had to say about a potential role as an analyst on Devils games.
"I had a decision to make," Gomez said. "They gave me a month to make a decision. They were awesome about it but I still knew I could play, so I thanked them for thinking of me."
Gomez has proven he still has game left. He has 14 points in 21 games, including seven points in the past six games. He had two assists in the Devils 5-3 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
Gomez, 35, has shown his speed, in particular through the neutral zone. He found chemistry with Jaromir Jagr before Jagr got sick and had to miss the game Thursday. He played with Adam Henrique and Steve Bernier against the Kings, and assisted on each of Bernier's power-play goals.
"He's deceivingly fast and he feels confident out there," Elias said. "He plays great with the puck. He still has issues defensively, but that's the way it's always been, so you've gotta take the good with the bad and the bad with the good. Offensively he's been a big help to this team."
Gomez said the six games he played with the Florida Panthers at the end of last season convinced him he could still play in the NHL. He had one point, but played more than 15 minutes in each of the final five games and felt like he was again playing fast, the way he did for with the Devils from 1999-2007, when he won the Stanley Cup twice and had 450 points in 548 games.
"I don't want to say I didn't care, but the situation I was in, I just said, 'I'm going to go out there and have fun, and if that means I get the puck and go end-to-end every time, I'm going to try to do it,'" Gomez said. "People, close friends, everyone I knew, they were just like, 'You're not done.' Those games proved it."
There weren't any guarantees that Gomez would play again. He joined the Devils for training camp on a professional tryout agreement, but he didn't sign a contract until Dec. 1, when the Devils needed help at forward with Travis Zajac and Martin Havlat out of the lineup.
The key to Gomez's success is what he did from the end of training camp until he signed his contract. Through the advice of general manager Lou Lamoriello, Gomez sought help from Vladimir Bure, who was New Jersey's fitness coach when they won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003.
"I'm not sitting here talking to you right now without Vladimir Bure," Gomez said. "I worked out with Vladdy again and we just went back to old school."
Gomez said he worked out with Bure, the father of Hall of Fame forward Pavel Bure, twice a day for six days a week at a rink in Wayne, N.J. He said he regained his confidence by getting into top shape.
"It's the old Russian, communist style of work," Gomez said. "We went back to our old skating program that he's had since I was a rookie, and the mindset, everything, there was no holding back. I'm not sitting here talking to you without Vladimir Bure. That's just the way it is."
Gomez would also practice with the Devils and follow a training program from strength and conditioning coordinator Michael Vasalani when the team was at home in the first two months of the season.
"He's had that sort of spark in him from Day One," Lamoriello said. "I think he has matured so much as far as all aspects, and appreciates what really wasn't there. It's a tremendous credit to him the way he's got himself in shape, and to be able to do the things he's doing right now is because of it."
Gomez credited former coach Peter DeBoer for allowing him to feel like he was part of the team in the two months when he was practicing without a contract.
"It would be hard if I felt like I was in the way, but the coaching staff was unreal with me, being respectful," Gomez said.
He also said being under Lamoriello's watchful eye has made him more accountable.
"For some reason Lou knows how to light a fire under me," Gomez said. "Being under his eye again is what I needed. This is where I wanted to be. I don't know how long I would have waited, but my mindset was completely focused by Vladdy. It didn't matter what was going on, I got my work done every day and when I got the call I was going to be ready."