From the moment he stepped on the ice as a 5-year-old, nothing has come easy for center Scott Gomez
But that didn't stop him from becoming the first Latino player drafted by an NHL team in the first round, didn't keep him from making a quick turnaround after several injuries throughout his career and certainly hasn't frustrated him in a season where his New York Rangers
are battling for their playoff lives.
It's the loyalty he has for teammates and the courage within that seems to motivate Gomez -- no matter what the consequences.
"My mom and dad were the two hardest-working people I knew; it was more a matter of survival for them," Gomez said. "As a youngster, I put all my energy into sports and I guess my work ethic comes from them. I never saw my dad miss a day of work no matter what the circumstances, no matter how bad the weather. My dad just told me to always work hard and my mom's rule was to have fun."
As a teenager, Gomez recalls being a target of racial slurs, but thanks to family support, was able to overcome all obstacles.
"Kids can be cruel, there's no doubt about it, but I think what was special about growing up in Anchorage (Alaska) is how diverse it really is," Gomez said. "There were always a couple of African-Americans, some Chinese kids and Hispanics involved in hockey. The (remarks) hurt at times, but usually those antagonists were the guys sitting the most. My dad used to say the only way to shut them up was by putting it in the net and I kept doing that.
"When I first left home and wasn't with the kids I grew up with, I would again hear stuff from the stands, but I've always been around good people, good teammates and good coaches and had that support to get me by," he said. "As I grew older, I realized the guys saying that hurtful stuff were idiots and I would just laugh it off."
"When I first left home and wasn't with the kids I grew up with, I would again hear stuff from the stands but I've always been around good people, good teammates and good coaches and had that support to get me by. As I grew older, I realized the guys saying that hurtful stuff were idiots and I would just laugh it off." -- Scott Gomez
Long before he signed with the Rangers in July 2007, Gomez became the second Devils player to receive the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie and was just one of eight players in League history to win the Calder and Stanley Cup in the same season in 1999-2000.
"There were so many guys who helped me my first season and I learned so many values from them -- guys like Randy McKay, Bobby Holik
and Ken Daneyko," Gomez said. "They taught me how to be a professional and how to work. They taught me how to be a good teammate and play strong. Little things like that I tell the young guys now. I tell them how I learned from some of the best and I'll always keep those lessons with me. This is your job and you have to bring it every day."
Gomez also raised the Cup with the Devils in 2002-03, posting 12 points in 24 playoff games. Both championships in New Jersey have provided the two-time NHL All-Star with lasting memories.
"Winning the Cup is something you just become addicted to and it's all you want to do," he said. "It doesn't get any better than hoisting the Cup and if you don't win it, it's just another year that goes by. Once you realize how special it is and how hard it is to win, you can appreciate it so much. I wish every guy in the League can experience that in their career."
And the biggest difference between a Stanley Cup team and a good team?
"There were so many guys who helped me my first season and I learned so many values from them -- guys like Randy McKay, Bobby Holik and Ken Daneyko. They taught me how to be a professional and how to work. They taught me how to be a good teammate and play strong. Little things like that I tell the young guys now. I tell them how I learned from some of the best and I'll always keep those lessons with me. This is your job and you have to bring it every day."
-- Scott Gomez
"You got to have some luck, but the teams I've won with just had it -- they knew how to win," Gomez said. "They knew every situation and never panicked. You gain an appreciation for what the guy next to you will do to accomplish something as a team."
During the 2004-05 lockout, Gomez returned to Anchorage and played for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL, leading the league with 73 assists and 86 points while being named ECHL Most Valuable Player. He would miss most of the postseason, however, with a hairline fracture in the pelvic area after being checked from behind by an opposing player. It would be one of three major injuries he would suffer in his career, including a separated shoulder as a teen and two displaced fractures in his left hand in 2001-02.
The setback wouldn't keep him from establishing career-highs in goals and points the following season with the Devils in 2005-06 alongside linemates Brian Gionta
, Zach Parise
and, later on, Patrik Elias
"Adversity is something you deal with every day," Gomez said. "My dad used to say to just pull up the seat of your pants and move forward. Life's pretty good when you think about it and you'll always find knocks in the road. But that's what makes life special; what will you do to move forward."
Rangers captain Chris Drury
is witness to the enthusiasm Gomez brings to the rink every day.
"Scott brings energy, life and excitement, along with his veteran leadership into our locker room," Drury said. "We enjoy him every single day and I believe we all feed off of his energy."
Gomez hopes the fire that burns within will help the Rangers capture another Cup.
"Win one in New York and you'll be remembered forever," he said. "Let's face it, everything happens in New York City. Listening to the stories of what players and fans went through in 1994 is great. New York deserves a winner and hopefully we'll be able to bring it to them again."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.