Q&A with Scott Gomez
New Jersey Devils fans are thinking about winning the Stanley Cup (again).
And Scott Gomez is one of the NHL's hottest players, playing on one of the hottest teams. In this edition of Facing Off, the 26-year-old tells us how he got out of his most embarrassing hockey moment, what unique pregame ritual got him in hot water with Scott Stevens and why he won't be fishing with his dad any time soon.
Question from David Amber: You started playing hockey when you were 4 years old, but I heard you wanted to quit early on. Why?
Answer from Scott Gomez: I didn't know how to skate. I hated it. I wanted to quit. I told my mom it was dangerous, and she supported me. But my dad told me I couldn't quit the team. When I was a little older, I asked my dad why he didn't let me quit. He said the only reason he didn't let me quit was because he bought me a brand new pair of skates and there was no way the money was going to waste. [Laughs]
Q: What was the turning point for you, when you started really enjoying the game?
A: I got cut from this competitive team when I was 6. The coach actually told me and another kid to forget about hockey and concentrate on other sports. Thinking back at it, why would you even tell a 6-year-old kid to quit a sport? I think after that, I got obsessed with the game. I would play in my living room with a mini stick. All I did was think about hockey. I would play hockey all day long, even by myself. All I would ever tell my teachers is that I will be in the NHL someday. That's when I realized I had a great passion for the game.
Q: What has been your most embarrassing moment in hockey?
A: [Laughs] When I was really young, the coach yelled at me and I peed in my pants. We were on the ice, standing against the boards, and it started so I blamed the kid beside me. The coach asked where the puddle came from so I pointed to the kid and he got in trouble. The kid knew he didn't pee, but he was scared of the coach too, so he didn't say anything. That was embarrassing, big time.
• Was first Hispanic player drafted by an NHL team (27th overall by Devils in 1999)
• Won Calder trophy in 2000, leading all rookies with 70 points
• Was first NHL rookie to win the Calder Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season since Kent Douglas of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1963.
• Played in 2000 NHL All-Star Game
• During the lockout, he played for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL. He led the league in scoring and was named ECHL MVP.
Q: I heard you became a Devils fans watching Mike Peluso. Is that true?
A: Yeah, it is. Mike Peluso was the first big hockey player in Alaska [where Gomez is from]. He played for the college team, he was an awesome defenseman. He had a big following in Alaska; when he won the Cup, it was huge. He was best friends with my high school coach, so I got to know him a bit.
Q: Did you get the inside scoop on whether that Alanis Morissette song "You Oughta Know" is about him or the guy from "Full House"?
A: [Laughs] Yeah, I asked him one time. He chuckled. I didn't really get an answer from him. Who knows? That secret may never be revealed.
Q: You were the first Hispanic player ever drafted into the NHL [father is Mexican, mother is Colombian]. At the time, did you know you were becoming a sports pioneer for people of your heritage?
A: The media kind of blew that out of proportion. They made me sound like I came from Tijuana and traded a bottle of tequila for a pair of skates and then learned how to play. Billy Guerin always gives me crap 'cause his mother is Nicaraguan, so maybe he's the one. It wasn't a Jackie Robinson sort of thing, I never wanted to be compared to that, but hey, if a kid saw me playing and he wanted to play hockey, no matter what race he is, that's great.
Q: In a sport dominated by white players, how much racism have you faced?
A: Growing up in Anchorage, it's so diverse, so it didn't affect me. I was never looked at as the Hispanic guy, I was just Scott. But I do remember when I was 14 years old on a select team and looking around and seeing everyone was white. When I went to Junior in Canada, there were some tough times. I remember going to certain small towns and being called [derogatory names], but my coaches and teammates were always great. When that would happen, I would just go out and pump in a couple of goals, that's the way I dealt with it.
Q: As a rookie in the NHL, what was it like playing with Scott Stevens? Were you scared?
A: The only time I got scared of Scotty was before my first NHL home game. I'm one of those guys who, before games, needs to have my mind on something else aside from hockey. So I'm in the players' lounge five minutes before the game and there was a People magazine article on Jennifer Anniston and I was like "neat." So in full gear, I grab the magazine and was reading the article on a couch five minutes before the game. Scotty pokes his head out and he just looked at me, and I said "Oh s---." He did a double take, then he went into the locker room and said "Look at this!" And I knew I had pissed the captain off. He thought it was the craziest thing ever to see a kid, minutes before his second NHL game, sitting there reading People magazine.
Q: So the whole thing was kind of intimidating?
A: Yeah, we had a bunch of veterans who were pretty intense. In the dressing room, I sat next to Randy McKay. He's one of the scariest-looking guys. Before games, he would do karate kicks. The guy was just wacky. During training camp, he didn't say a word to me. Finally, I just approached him and said, "Jesus Randy, why aren't you talking to me?" and he said, "Man, there are so many young kids coming in and I'm so bad with names, so I'm just worried to get a name wrong." I'm like, how hard is Gomez to remember? That's the worst excuse ever.
Q: You played in the 2000 NHL All-Star Game as a rookie. What was the most memorable moment from that experience?
A: First of all, you don't know what the hell is going on. You are wondering what you're doing in this locker room. Mark Messier's stall was right next to mine, and he walks in and he just has this presence. He sits down and right away talks to me, it was awesome. Then, something I will never forget, I'm sitting there next to Mess, and Gretzky walks in, and they start joking around. I'm sitting there thinking, "What the heck is going on? This is unbelievable!"
Q: Later that year, you brought the Cup to Alaska. What was that like?
A: My whole rookie season was a blur. Next thing I know, I'm holding the Stanley Cup. The veterans told me the first thing I needed to do was make the Cup available for the town. So it was great watching everyone react to having the Cup in Alaska.
Q: Did you do the usual bar tour with the Cup?
A: We took it to this one bar in Anchorage and I wasn't 21 yet. So the manager of the bar tried to fill the Cup with O'Doul's. I told her there is no way you are putting nonalcoholic beer in the Stanley Cup. I was already thinking of the guys back in the locker room, if they found out I had nonalcoholic beer in the Cup, I'll never hear the end of it. It would become another one of those urban myths. So I told the manager I wouldn't drink, but she needed to put real booze in the Cup. She started to argue, but I threatened to leave this packed bar and take the Cup with me. I was a rookie and so scared the veterans would get a hold of this and I would be the laughingstock of the league. So she finally filled the cup with champagne.
Q: Based on all the success you've had at such an early age, would you say Scott Gomez is the greatest athlete ever to come out of Alaska?
A: [Short pause] That's for people to decide. I mean, the guy who put us on the map was Trajan Langdon. Trajan went to Duke, then played in the NBA. We grew up in the same neighborhood. He got us in the national spotlight. We're all proud of our own here in Alaska.
Q: How close are you with Trajan?
A: A couple of years ago, he was in New Jersey, getting ready for a road game. He was playing for the Cavs, so I pick him up for lunch. He had to be at the pregame shootaround at a certain time. So we ate right near the Meadowlands, but I got lost. He said, "Gomer, what the heck are you doing?" I started to panic. I'm on the turnpike and he's getting angrier and angrier. Thankfully, I got him to the arena just in time. He looked at me, shaking his head and said, "You hockey players." We laugh about it now.
Q: Coming from Alaska, you like fishing. What's your best fishing story?
A: The funniest one happened when I was about 10. I was with my cousin and my family, we were camping. Earlier in the day, I hadn't caught jack, so later that night my cousin and I went back to fish some more. I wasn't wearing a hat and when I cast my line it hit a tree and the hook landed on my head. When I pulled the line, the hook went into my scalp. So the hook is in my head and my cousin is laughing. It really hurt, but we didn't have a knife to get the hook out. We cut the line and went back to camp with this fishing hook sticking out of my head.
I go in the camper and say, "Dad, I've got a hook in my head." He starts yelling at me to stop fooling around. My mom came out and freaks and said we need to go to the hospital. My old man thought that's going to be time and money, so instead of going to the hospital, he cracked open a bottle of peppermint Schnapps and he made me take a swig, just like the cowboys in the movies. So, I took a swig, he put a towel on my head and he got the pliers and pulled the hook out. It hurt, I still have a mark there.
Q: What was your reaction when Larry Robinson stepped down as head coach?
A: It was awful. Larry means a lot to all of us here. He has helped my career a lot. It was tough, it was like we let the guy down. He couldn't even talk, he was crying and telling us he can't do this anymore. He told us he loved us too much to keep coaching at less than 100 percent. He couldn't coach the way he wanted, he didn't want to see us playing the way we were. It was an emotional day for all of us, it was bad.
Q: How does Lou Lamoriello the coach compare to Lou Lamoriello the GM?
A: We're talking about probably the most intimidating guy in hockey. It's scary knowing before, if you did something bad on the ice, you would look up into the corner [of the arena] and see his reaction. Now, he's only two feet away from you. One thing about Lou, he's got balls. He's done a wonderful job. He's been positive, he gives you advice and it helps.
Q: The Devils are red-hot right now. How have you guys turned your season around?
A: We all just started being accountable. Before we weren't doing that. You would make a mistake and the guys were like, whatever, and that's how we were losing games. Now, we have that care back for each other, you don't want to let the guy down next to you, it's important to have that.
Q: I read your parents weren't typical hockey parents. How so?
A: The only thing my dad cared about was that I worked hard. That's it. He didn't care if I didn't score three or fours goals. Other parents would get mad if their kid didn't score, not my parents. My mom didn't even watch the game, she only watched when I was on the ice. They would tell me to have fun. If you're not having fun, what's the point? I didn't play hockey all year round. We played baseball all summer long. My dad was a mean baseball coach. He didn't want the other parents to think he was favoring me, so he was tough.
Q: What did he do? Bat you last?
A: No, he ain't batting me last. I batted third. I played shortstop, catcher and pitcher. He would tell me and my best friends on the team to get our butts in gear. We actually went undefeated and won our regional tournament. So it worked out OK.
Q: Next month, you'll be in Italy representing the U.S. at the Olympics. What are you expecting from this experience?
A: I'm excited. We have to go for the gold. I think we're going to shock a lot of people. With such a short tournament, all you have to do is get hot. If your goalie plays out of his mind, that's all you need. We'll be ready.
Q: Now, you could be facing teammate Martin Brodeur in a shootout. What would you do?
A: I always do this one move on him. He knows what I'm going to do, but I can't say what it is or then other teams will know. The guy is pretty good on breakaways.
David Amber is an ESPN anchor and a contributor to ESPN.com.