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Gomez glad he answered Weight's call, and now he's Islanders assistant

Unrelated conversation led to 16-season NHL veteran beginning new career in coaching

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The phone call wasn't expected, but it was one Scott Gomez hoped would come.

When New York Islanders coach Doug Weight was beginning to fill out his staff following last season, he called Gomez to pick his brain about the growing trend of players working with individual skills coaches. Weight knew that Gomez, who retired in 2016 after 16 seasons in the League, worked with former NHL coach and assistant Adam Oates late in his playing career, so he'd have some insight.

After talking about that, they started discussing power plays and Gomez's views on running a team. That lengthy phone call led to two more conversations and, eventually, an offer for Gomez to join the Islanders as an assistant.

"He just showed this passion for wanting to get in the game and wanting to coach," Weight said. "I didn't really know he wanted to do that."

When Gomez broke into the NHL and won the Calder Trophy and Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2000, he never thought he'd get into coaching. But during his final few seasons as a player, the idea started to appeal to him.

Gomez didn't expect to get an opportunity so soon after he retired, though. He worked last season as an in-studio analyst for NBC Sports Network and NHL Network, and his future appeared to be in broadcasting. Then, Weight called.

"When I was younger, I just thought that [playing] would be it," Gomez said. "Then you retire and the advice is, 'Don't retire, play as long as you can.' The TV gig was neat, but I think this is my calling."

As a two-time Stanley Cup winner and playmaking center who had 756 points (181 goals, 557 assists) in 1,079 NHL games with the Devils, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators, Gomez gained a lot of knowledge he could share. Weight, who knew Gomez from when they played for the United States at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and 2006 Turin Olympics, learned that during the course of their interview process.

Gomez set up their second interview with the help of a small lie. When Weight mentioned he was going to Seattle to watch forward Mathew Barzal play in the Western Hockey League, Gomez, who was at his home in Anchorage, Alaska, said by coincidence he had plans to be in Seattle at the same time.

After they got off the phone, Gomez scrambled to arrange a flight to Seattle.

"I guess [Weight] knows that now," Gomez said of his fib. "But I was really serious."

That has been evident in Gomez's work ethic since the Islanders hired him.

"He's at the office early every day and he wants to learn," Weight said. "So it's been great."

Weight, whose Islanders are 7-5-1 following a 4-3 loss at the Washington Capitals on Thursday, said Gomez has been a good fit on his staff alongside associate Greg Cronin, assistants Luke Richardson and Kelly Buchberger and goaltending coach Fred Brathwaite. During games, Gomez is the "eye in the sky," watching from the press box alongside Brathwaite.

His main responsibilities have been helping with the power play and doing individual video work with young forwards such as Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier to assist the 20-year-olds' adjustment to the NHL.

"He just shows me a lot of power play stuff and a lot of on the wall stuff, little tricks he used to use, ways to get away from defenders," Barzal said. "So he's really helpful for me."

Among the coaches that influenced him, Gomez lists Larry Robinson, Scott Stevens, Viacheslav Fetisov, Pat Burns and Oates, all members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Gomez tries to incorporate what he learned from them into his coaching, but said the most important thing they taught him was to be himself.

"You can't change who you are," Gomez said. "I'm not going to go out there and start screaming and yelling at guys. You can't be a phony."

Gomez's fun-loving attitude as a player was a challenge for some coaches.

Robinson, who coached the Devils' 2000 Stanley Cup team, said Gomez's intelligence as a player should translate well to coaching, but joked he's glad he's trying the profession because, "Now he'll know exactly what the rest of us went through for all these years trying to coach him."

Gomez and Robinson got along well during their time together in New Jersey, but Gomez often clashed with Burns, a taskmaster who coached the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2003. A former policeman with a famous temper, Burns sometimes motivated through intimidation.

That approach wouldn't fit Gomez's personality, but he realizes now that Burns' brand of tough love brought out the best in him as a player.

"You think of [Burns] and it was pretty special just go through that," Gomez said. "It wasn't special at the time, but it made me definitely who I am."

Gomez fondly remembers receiving a phone call from Burns a few days before he died of cancer in 2010.

"He was going to apologize [for how he treated Gomez] and I told him, 'No way,'" Gomez said. "I owe him a lot. At the time I didn't see it, but at the end I did. To be able to say I was one of [Burns'] boys was pretty neat for me. To earn his respect, that was great."

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