The Players' Tribune- "Life and hockey kind of mirror each other in the sense that when you’re having good times, it’s difficult to imagine how things will ever go wrong. And when you’re having bad times, well, yeah."
"Once when I was riding a hot streak, I remember being on the team plane reading about how great I was doing. Joe Nieuwendyk walked over, grabbed the paper from me and said, “Gomer, don’t read that shit.” And I was kind of confused and then he told me, “Get in the habit right now of not reading the paper, because one day they’re going to start writing things about you that you won’t want to read.” Joe was one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around in this sport. There’s a certain code amongst hockey players. When a guy like Joe Nieuwendyk tells you not to do something, you listen. I had no idea at the time just how valuable his advice would turn out to be."
"I began struggling with the Canadiens at the same time when the team as a whole was underperforming. When you’re playing in a city as hockey crazy as Montreal and have a large contract, your bad plays become amplified. As noted poet Biggie Smalls once said, “Mo money, mo problems.” But I know that’s what I signed up for. I’m a sports fan, so I’m familiar with the stigma – guy signs a big contract and then starts taking it easy. Let’s address that for a moment: It’s bullshit. This is the National Hockey League and the game has only one speed. We all work hard. That’s just the way it is. Over my last decade and a half in the NHL, I only saw one or two guys who I think weren’t as committed to the sport as much as they should have been. If you don’t put everything you have into this game, you open yourself up for injury and, the worst possible punishment for a hockey player, losing the respect of your peers. But, that being said, I also get the fans’ perspective. If I was sitting in the stands, I might have started booing me too."
I suppose the easy narrative is to chalk this up as a story of a guy getting lost before finding his way. That’s just not true, I never, ever lost my ability to play hockey. If anything, those experiences in Montreal, San Jose and Florida made me appreciate the game even more. If you never struggle, it’s difficult to appreciate success. I needed those experiences to make me a more well-rounded person. I knew I could play, I just needed a chance.
It is very rare that we ever get to see the other side. As a player, there is so much that goes into being a professional athlete. Besides the on ice product and the off ice workouts, at the end of the day it is still a business. As a fan it is all about snap judgements, gut reactions, and a polarizing attitude towards any and all athletes. Hell, I'm a blogger. I'm as guilty as anyone. From the most casual observer to the most devout follower, all we know is what we see on the ice. It was easy for me to sit there and laugh as Scott Gomez accepted the Rangers far too lucrative offer and proceeded to mark the downward spiral of his career. It was easy for me to make every Mexican joke in the book. It was easy to pile on a man that turned his back on a franchise that brought two Stanley Cup rings to his fingers by the ripe age of 23.
I can't sit here and say I regret any of it. That's what being a fan is about. Caring far too much about people you will never truly know. Athletes aren't people to us. They are entertainment. They may as well be highly paid robots. Do you care how Scott Gomez' day is going if he shanks an opportunity at a game winning goal? Hell no, and as well you shouldn't. That's why they get paid the bug bucks, to receive far too much praise and endure far too much criticism.
Every now and again, however, it is nice to get a glimpse. To see inside the mind of a professional athlete, especially one that has been through as many up's and down's as Scott Gomez. If you have played sports before you can relate to exactly where Gomez is coming from, although on a much smaller level I am sure. From recreational sports on up, everyone experiences the phenomenon of streaks. Whether it be a hot streak where the basketball hoop may as well be a hula hoop or a cold streak where the puck may as well be magnetized to the goal post. It becomes not about talent level, but confidence level. It's easy to watch someone and say "that guy sucks" or "that guy isn't giving it his all" instead of "that guy is going through a rough patch". We don't understand every single intricacy of professional sports. As much as some fans claim to be an expert, we don't know how well certain players fit into certain systems. So as many times as I labeled Scott Gomez "garbage", I still knew that the talent he once portrayed on a regular basis for the New Jersey Devils hadn't gone completely by the wayside.
It's obviously easier for me to appreciate this piece from Gomer now that he is back with a team whose success I live and die with, but it doesn't change the fact that it's highly introspective and educational. Whether you play sports, or simply watch sports, Gomez ride from the top of the mountain, to the deepest of ditch, to somewhere in the middle provides us with quite the lesson that life is ever-changing. It is never as good, or as bad, as it seems in the moment. While I will always love Scott Gomez for being the part of two Stanley Cup championships (and thus memories I'll never forget), and I'll always hate him for going to play with the Rangers, this article makes me respect him. Both as a player and a person. That's something we don't get to say often enough as fans.
"Lou was the first person I called when I made the decision to go to the Sharks. He tried to talk me out of it. He wanted me back in New Jersey. He said he wasn’t going to let me fail."
You know, as a Devils fan I always sing the praises of the organization. Mostly because I am biased as fuck, but also because they typically conduct business in a personal and professional manner. It was easy to think that Lou Lamoniello just brought in Scott Gomez as a shot in the dark to add offensive talent from an unlikely place. I don't really think many people thought that it was also a favor to Scott. It would be easy for Lou to tell Scott Gomez to piss off after leaving for a team that he doesn't just hate, but despises. It's surprising to learn that Gomez sought out Lou during his time with Canadiens to tell him that he stills conducts himself by his standards. It's shocking, although it really shouldn't be, to learn that Lou told Gomez he wouldn't let him fail.
I guess it just lends credence to the fact that you don't become a successful franchise by accident. Whether it was Stevens having dinner with Gomez prior to camp, or Gomez still referring to Stevens as "my captain", the Devils truly do things the right way.