Scott Gomez doesn’t have a defined role just yet in his new job as New York Islanders assistant coach. Whatever he does end up overseeing, however, it won’t be the only area that he’s fully educated himself on.
Last week, Gomez had planned meetings with former New Jersey Devils teammate Scott Stevens to talk about defense. He was also going to spend time with Steve Valiquette to learn about goalies. There won’t be subject that the 16-year NHL veteran isn’t well-versed in by the time training camp opens.
“To be a great coach, [you can’t be] a one-trick pony guy,” Gomez told Yahoo Sports last week. “I’ve got to learn every position. I don’t know what a goalie thinks. I don’t know what to look for… The learning, it’s just going to be non-stop.”
Gomez cited Bill Belichick, Gregg Popovich and Tony La Russa, among others, as those who are successful because they understand how each position on the field works, and how to improve those areas when they become weaknesses.
“You’ve got to know every position or what the hell’s the point?” said Gomez, whose deal with the Islanders is for two years. “What happens if I have to answer a defensive question? Believe it or not I’ve had coaches, you ask them a question, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ ‘What do you mean I don’t know? You’re the coach.’ ‘Oh, I’m the offensive coach.’ That never made sense to me.”
When Gomez retired last September, several NHL teams called him to find out what his post-playing plans were. But when he spoke with Islanders head coach Doug Weight, his teammate from the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, he was excited to move forward and work with his good friend.
Before retiring, Gomez spent last season playing for the St. Louis Blues, Hershey Bears and Ottawa Senators before finally shutting it down. He could have easily decided against riding the buses in the AHL and hung up his skates to enjoy the fruits of a hockey career that paid him very well. But with an eye already focused on spending his post-playing days coaching, there was one motivating factor that kept him in the game.
“I just didn’t give in because I knew one day if I was going to be a coach and that question ever came up, like, ‘Well, you quit.’ ‘Nope, that didn’t happen to me,’” he said. “You’ve got to tell these kids stuff and you’ve got be able to back it up. The greatest thing about my career was I went through every situation – being on the top of the heap, being down on the bottom, fighting back. There’s not one thing in this game I didn’t go through and that makes it where I know what it’s like to be the kid who’s getting booed by 20,000 a night, every night.”
Gomez believes that playing in the league for so long and seeing so many coaching styles will help him in his new role. Towards the end of his career, when he was veteran presence, he found himself working more and more with young players, playing the mentor role. He was always a student of the game, so transitioning into passing on his knowledge to the next generation makes for a perfect fit. His aim is to be to a player what Stevens, Larry Robinson, Slava Fetisov and Adam Oates meant to his career.
As far as his approach to coaching, Gomez said that throughout his NHL career there was one common thread that all of his most influential coaches shared, and it’s something he’ll bring to the Islanders.
“I think with any coach, doesn’t matter if you’re assistant or head, the trait I saw in general were the first through the 23rd guy’s got to get the same amount of love,” Gomez said. “With a lot of places, some guys you didn’t even talk to and yet they expect you to go do something. That’s not coaching. Each guy’s in the National Hockey League for a reason and now it’s our job to make them understand how good they can be, not just saying it, showing it to them and then working with them every day from the top guy to the bottom. That’s the way it’s got to be.
“I got to see both hands of it when I was at the top and at the bottom. That’s the key to coaching is not just telling guys what to do, it’s making them believe they can go do it.”
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