Don Hay has many fond memories of coaching Scott Gomez when they were with the Tri-City Americans.
Hay recalled one instance when Gomez wanted to date one of his daughters. Hay’s response: “Where would you like to play?”
Nearly two decades later, and after 1,079 NHL games, Gomez is hanging up his skates.
The former Americans forward announced his retirement Wednesday, bringing an end to a 16-year career in which he played with seven NHL teams and won two Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils.
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“I thought it was time,” said Gomez, the only former Tri-City player to win a Stanley Cup. “It has become a younger man’s game. To play at my age (36), you have to know a coach who knows your game. You don’t want to be a fourth-line guy playing seven minutes a game. I had a great career with great memories. I knew this time would come. There are no regrets.”
Hay, who kept a watchful eye on his former player throughout his career, said he woke up to the news Thursday morning.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” Hay said. “Having him as a 19-year-old player, watching him develop and have the career that he had, it’s kind of a sad day. I know how much (hockey) meant to him and how much he gave back to the sport. Things go through your mind. Scotty could skate and think the game so well, and pass the puck. He will be missed out there.”
A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Gomez was a first-round pick (27th overall) in the 1998 NHL draft by New Jersey.
But before he embarked on a successful NHL career, Gomez sharpened his skills with the Americans in the Western Hockey League.
“Tri-City was a special place,” Gomez said. “I had the best billets in Bob and Linda Russell. They were a major influence in my life. They let me dream. They were there when I was confused about the draft, and they gave me confidence. I owe a lot to them.”
Gomez originally was selected in the WHL bantam draft by Spokane in the ninth round (161st overall) in 1996, but he failed to report. The Chiefs later dropped him from their protected list, and Tri-City picked him up.
“I was a U.S. kid, so college hockey was the thing,” Gomez said. “To be honest, I ended up in Tri-City because my billet when I was with South Surrey (British Columbia) was friends with (former Americans owner) Ron Toigo. Spokane had released my rights, and they signed me.”
In his rookie season with the Americans (1997-98), Gomez scored 12 goals with 37 assists in 45 games, and was named to the WHL All-Rookie Team.
That spring, he was drafted by New Jersey.
The next season, Hay took over the Americans, and Gomez flourished, scoring 30 goals with 78 assists in 58 games.
Gomez and teammate Dylan Gyori (118 points) were named to the Western Conference All-Star Team.
“His 19 year, we had a good team,” Hay said. “He was a fun-loving young man, came to the rink with lots of energy and he loved to play. We were doing OK in the playoffs that year. We had just beat Portland and met up with Kamloops, and he got a concussion. That really killed our chances after that.”
As much as Hay liked Gomez, the young player had a lot of respect for his coach.
“Talk about presence,” Gomez said. “You learned respect and how to be prepared — little things like that. I only played for him one year, but he prepared me for the next level. I can’t thank him enough.”
Gomez twice played for Team USA (1998-99) at the World Junior Championship. He also played for the United States at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, where it lost to Finland in the quarterfinals.
“It’s something you dream about, especially the World Juniors,” Gomez said. “Anytime you get to represent your country, you take pride in that. I just wish we would have had better results.”
Gomez played the first seven years of his NHL career with New Jersey, winning Stanley Cups in 2000 and 2003.
He won the Calder Memorial Trophy for the 1999-00 season as the NHL Rookie of the Year, played in the NHL All-Star Game and won a Stanley Cup.
“That was great, but I won those so early that the rest of my career fell short,” Gomez said of the Stanley Cups.
His best NHL season came in 2005-06, when he scored 33 goals with 51 assists. During the 2003-04 season, he tied for the NHL lead in assists with 56.
An unrestricted free agent in 2007, Gomez signed a seven-year contract worth $51.5 million with the New York Rangers.
He played two seasons for the Rangers before being traded to Montreal, where he reunited with former Devils teammate Brian Gionta and teamed up with former Tri-City goalie Carey Price.
“He was still a young guy when I was in New Jersey,” Gomez said of Price. “I have nothing but good things to say about him. We both took a lot of pride being from Tri-City. I have nothing but fond memories playing with him. He is the best hockey player in the world today. Tri-City should be proud.”
Gomez played three years (2009-12) with the Canadiens and then had stints with San Jose, Florida, New Jersey, St. Louis and Ottawa.
The two-time All-Star ended his career with 181 goals and 756 points.
Gomez now will focus on the Scotty Gomez Foundation, which provides resources for underprivileged youths to play hockey. The foundation also helped a girls high school hockey program in Anchorage stay afloat.
He also wants to get into broadcasting, and has dabbled a bit in the art for the NHL Network.
No matter what the future holds, he’ll always treasure his time on the ice.
“It was a wild ride, and I loved every minute of it,” Gomez said. “You always want more. I wanted 1,000 points, but at the end of the day, I passed the puck with the best of them.”