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Gomez, Rangers starting to click

by Dan Rosen /

Despite a slow start to the season, Scott Gomez (Video) has resorted to his usual steady self in time to earn some shifts in the All-Star game.
Scott Gomez only was crossing a river, only traveling a few miles east, but he still needed time to settle in to his new uniform, his new locker room, his new arena, even his new Manhattan apartment.

There was one problem.

When you sign a $50 million contract to play under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden, time is not your friend.

If you don’t earn all those millions right away, you find yourself answering questions about your troubles. Your fans, the same ones who celebrated your arrival in July, right around the time they started planning the ticker-tape parade, begin to question if you’re just another athlete who can’t handle New York.

It’s no fun, but the beautiful part is you still have plenty of, you guessed it, time, to make everyone believe again. A little more than halfway through his first season as a New York Ranger, it’s now quite obvious Gomez has used his time wisely.

After registering only three points and a minus-2 rating through his first month as a Ranger, Gomez used November, December and 10 days in January to turn himself into an All-Star.

Gomez, who went to the All-Star Game in Toronto as a rookie in 2000, is headed to the show in Atlanta on Jan. 27 thanks to his consistent play as the Rangers’ top forward. He currently leads the team with 42 points, including 32 assists, and now sports a plus-1 rating through 46 games.

“I think what Scott has is a terrific equilibrium as a player and a person. I don’t think he lets things mount up inside to the point where they paralyze him or freeze him up from doing what he does best,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “It was really only a matter of time before he found his legs and his game. He has certainly done that, and he has been a very, very consistent player for us. It seems that whomever he is with reaps the benefit of a good hockey player.”

A mature one, too.

Gomez, who since entering the League in 1999 has been one of the happy-go-lucky guys in whatever room he enters, admits this All-Star selection is slightly bittersweet because while his play is up to snuff, his team’s certainly hasn’t been.

As the type of player who measures himself by how his team does – he learned that in New Jersey – Gomez is not happy because the Rangers in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s definitely an honor (getting picked for the All-Star Game), but right now it’s so far back in my mind,” Gomez said. “I’m more worried about what is going on, about where we’re at.”

“We’ve got to pick it up. We can be a lot better. We have to start playing,” he later added. “The coaches have done a tremendous job, and it’s our turn to pay them back. We have a great staff, and we’re cheating them. It starts with us.”

Gomez hardly has been the problem. He’s been sound at both ends of the ice, and even has found chemistry with Jaromir Jagr.

“He seems to be flying,” said Rangers center Chris Drury, who is linked to Gomez because they both signed contracts on the same July afternoon. “I think everyone is thrilled for him. He’s probably been our best player this year.”

It certainly didn’t start out that way.

Renney put Gomez and Jagr together after the Drury-Jagr combination failed. But Gomez and Jagr couldn’t connect, either.

Gomez said he was “pressing the puck” to Jagr too much, “just making it too predictable,” as he tried to cater to Jagr’s patient style rather than play his own speed game.

“Jags got on me, too,” Gomez said. “He said; ‘You’ve got to play your game for this to work.’ ”

After separating them on Nov. 3, Renney put Gomez and No. 68 back together on Dec. 18, but this time a healthy Martin Straka was on the left wing. Straka missed time earlier in the season with a broken index finger.

With 42 points through 47 games this season, Gomez is on pace for 73 points, which would be the second-highest point total of his eight-year career.

Gomez said Straka, a veteran who has played with Jagr for many years and knows his style and tendencies probably better than anyone in the League, made all the difference.

Jagr started skating, dishing and eventually scoring. Gomez got back to playing his fast, north-south game. Straka was, as usual, steady in digging pucks out of the corner and creating offense through his sound defense.

“Just what (Straka) did to our line, what he brought, the spark and leadership, I can’t credit him enough. He just brought another element and that was the key,” Gomez said. “You know hockey. All it takes is one little thing, and it was Marty that kind of turned it around.”

Don’t think it was easy, though.

Straka and, more specifically, Jagr spent the last two seasons in New York playing with Michael Nylander, a skit-skatting center who dazzles with his puck handling but still keeps his linemates guessing as to which way he’ll go and why.

Gomez virtually is the exact opposite, a straight up and down player who doesn’t freestyle, but instead drives the puck up ice with his incredible speed.

“Mikey played different than Gomer is playing, so it takes some time. Sometimes it takes a little more time,” Straka told “(Gomez) is really fast. You have to try to get open because you know he is going to beat some guys.”

Now all the Rangers have to do is beat some teams.

“We’ve got the team in here, there’s no doubt about it,” Gomez said. “It’s right there. We’re kind of teasing ourselves. We can be such a great team when we’re all going together for 60 minutes. There are a lot of people right now laughing and having a good time seeing where we’re at. We’re going to turn this around.”

As expected, Gomez will be the center of attention if they do.

He just needed a little time. Is that really a crime?

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