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Gomez proud of Alaskan roots, players

by John McGourty
Scott Gomez is justifiably proud of his family's heritage and equally proud of his Alaskan roots.

Gomez is the first Alaskan to succeed in the NHL and that made him a role model to a lot of kids playing hockey in Alaska. He was an inspiration to young players like the Flyers' Matt Carle, the Islanders' Nate Thompson and the Rangers' Brandon Dubinsky.

Carle had one of the most illustrious college careers of any player and enjoyed an outstanding rookie season with the San Jose Sharks in 2006-07. He went to Tampa Bay in the Dan Boyle trade last summer and then joined the Flyers in another deal this season and has settled in on the Philadelphia backline.

Thompson played four years of Canadian junior hockey with the Seattle Thunderbirds and was drafted by Boston in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. This season he has appeared in 28 games with the Islanders.

Dubinsky, a second-round pick of the Rangers in 2004, has blossomed as a strong, energetic player in New York, quickly becoming a fan favorite. In 67 games this season, he had scored 8 goals and 24 assists.

With two Stanley Cups and the Calder Trophy, Gomez has set the bar very high for any Alaskan who would seek to top his accomplishments. But Carle has made a good start.

Carle, the 2006 Hobey Baker Award winner as the nation's top collegiate hockey player, was USHL defenseman of the year, WCHA Player of the Year, a two-time All American and led Denver University to the 2005 NCAA championship. He was named to the 2007 NHL All-Rookie Team after leading freshman defensemen with 11 goals, 31 assists and 42 points in 2006-07. He also had eight power-play goals and finished sixth in Sharks' scoring.

Carle points directly to Gomez as his inspiration.

"The biggest thing was the success of Scott Gomez," Carle said. "I was 15 years old when he won his first Stanley Cup and it made me think that if he could get there from Anchorage, maybe I could too. Scott paved the way for all of us and put Alaska hockey on the map.

"There were good hockey players before but no one had come from here and had that kind of success. Now, we knew it was a possibility and it made us work that much harder. More of us are getting to the NHL and it's been fun to watch."

From the start, Gomez has approached the game and his fame with a sense of humor. Teammates marveled at the rookie who could read the newspaper right up until game time and then score an early goal. It's hard to faze him and hard to stand up to his ribbing. Carle has been his target before.

"It's about time Carle got here to the NHL," Gomez teased during the defenseman's rookie season. "I've told him that before. He's my neighbor.

"When we talk about Anchorage hockey, we can't figure out why some of the older guys didn't break in. There were good players ahead of us. Now, there are some really great kids coming up to the NHL and we're really proud of the hockey programs that helped us develop. Brandon Dubinsky, Nate Thompson and Matt Carle are great kids.

"It's different now than when I started. My folks went to the Anchorage Boys and Girls club where they lent equipment to young kids. If you wanted to try out for hockey, you'd go down there and get the gear, except for the skates, helmet and sticks. That's a great organization and they do everything for kids. I played there for three or four years.

"Now, everybody plays for the All Stars or the North Stars. The most important thing in my development was the coaching. They should get a lot of credit because it's not just the few of us in the NHL. They also produced a lot of kids who were able to use hockey to get college educations and there are Alaskans in Canadian juniors. I had Scott McLeod as my coach from PeeWee to Midgets. He knew how to push my buttons and he's one of the reasons I'm in the NHL. I owe him a lot."
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