Scott Gomez already is prepared for the booing he’ll receive the first time he goes back to New Jersey as a New York Ranger.
The 27-year-old center shocked Devils' fans on July 1 when he accepted a huge free-agent contract from the Rangers. After all, Gomez had spent his seven NHL seasons with New Jersey, piling up 116 goals, 450 points and two Stanley Cup rings as a member of the Devils. Despite battling a groin injury for much of last season, he tied for third in scoring on the Devils with 60 points.
But now Gomez is a Ranger and he says he's prepared to hear his longtime fans boo him when his new team comes to New Jersey.
|The Rangers made a move to weaken the division-rival Devils by signing free-agent center Scott Gomez to a seven-year deal.
"It never crossed my mind. I didn't know they did that!" Gomez joked. "I talked to (former Devil-turned-Ranger) Bobby Holik during the summer because I saw it happen to him, firsthand. I also talked to some Devils' fans. I'm sure I won't get a standing ovation every time I touch the puck.
"But this is where I wanted to come. Devils fans are passionate. They get a bad rap, but they care and they're behind the team. I've never been booed during a whole game. It will be interesting."
It will also be odd to be playing against guys he’s known and played with for years.
"I was talking to some of the Devils, and it will be different for me this year, for sure," Gomez said. "When we play against each other, there will be a lot of emotion for me. I know when I play the Devils, I'll be ready to do whatever it takes to win — and I'm sure they feel the same way."
The Rangers also signed another top center, Chris Drury, during their summer shopping spree. Both players wore No. 23 with their previous employers, but Gomez was willing to make a change.
"We talked, Chris and I, after I signed with New York," Gomez said. "I said; 'Take No. 23'. It was never a number of mine. The Devils gave it to me and I had no input. I always wore No. 11 or No. 19 when I was growing up. I knew I wasn't going to be wearing No. 11 (Mark Messier's retired number) here. So, I'm wearing No. 19 and Chris will wear No. 23."
The Rangers are playing mix-and-match during training camp in search of the best line chemistry, but Gomez is expected to play with Jaromir Jagr. He has been practicing on a line with Jagr and Martin Straka.
"I've been fortunate to play with talented wingers," Gomez said. "Jaromir Jagr is probably one of the top five hockey players who ever played. He's that good. We're getting used to each other right now. It's kind of like when I played with Alexander Mogilny. You can't step back and watch his talent because you're out on the ice with him. You just know he's a great talent with amazing skills.
"Hopefully, it works out with Jagr and me. But whatever it takes, that's what we'll do. We have the options with this roster. We have guys you can plug in here and there. It doesn't matter who plays with who as long as we get two points every game."
The Rangers weren’t the only team chasing Gomez this summer. He says he received a free-agency offer from the Flyers. After he took the Rangers' offer, he called Flyers GM Paul Holmgren to thank him.
"There's a respect factor with Paul Holmgren," Gomez said. "He called right away on July 1. I had Paul as a coach at the World Juniors and he was with the Olympic team. I thanked him after I saw that Daniel Briere signed with him. Paul was straightforward with me and did an outstanding job.
|"I know when I play the Devils, I'll be ready to do whatever it takes to win — and I'm sure they feel the same way."
-- Scott Gomez
"A lot of people forget that the Flyers had a lot of injuries right off the bat last season. They were a different team than what they expected to be. The NHL needs the Flyers to be good and I think they will be. The players they added are character guys. They added some defense. They have kids ready to step in and get Philly back on their feet. That's probably not good for us."
Though Gomez is an established NHL star, he hasn’t forgotten the people and organizations that helped him get there — including the Anchorage Boys and Girls Club, which had a policy of lending hockey equipment to young players.
"They gave you everything but the skates, helmet and sticks," Gomez said. "I did that for about three or four years. It's a great program that really helps kids."
It's typical of Gomez not to mention that he's been giving back to the club for years. He also credited Scott McClellan, his Pee Wee coach, with really spurring his development, although Gomez said he got good coaching across the board while growing up in Anchorage.
Gomez moved to the Vancouver area to play a season of Junior B hockey with the South Surrey Eagles. He had 48 goals and 76 assists for 124 points and was drafted by Tri-City of the Western Hockey League. After two years there, Gomez jumped right to the NHL and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
"Surrey was one of the high points of my career," Gomez said. "I went back this summer and stayed a week with my billet family. Rick Lantz, my coach at Surrey, helped me to the next level. For a kid in his first year away from home, the attitude of the people around Vancouver toward the players, it couldn't have gone any better. The Eagles will always have a place in my heart."
|NHL.com's 2007-08 Rangers Season Preview Package:
|Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards | Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster