For the past year, Scott Gomez of the New Jersey Devils has had his mind focused on one thing -- putting the puck in the net.
But on his visit to the Kenai Peninsula Saturday, Gomez couldn't help letting his focus shift to another thing -- putting a sockeye in the net.
Anchorage's Gomez, fresh off winning the Stanley Cup and the Calder Trophy as the National Hockey League's top rookie, came to Kenai for the grand opening of the Spenard Builders Supply Kenai store.
His opening remarks to the gathered crowd centered on his fishing experiences on the Russian River.
"Sometimes I leave happy, sometimes I leave kind of mad," the 20-year-old said.
Gomez, who last played at the Soldotna Sports Center when he was a Mite and Squirt, then sat down and signed hockey pucks and other personal items for a constant stream of people for two hours.
Even a couple of curious caribou appeared in back of the lumber yard at Spenard to see what all the commotion was about.
In a five-minute interview after the signing, Gomez said he is not the only Devil who knows of the great fishing on the Kenai.
He said Scott Stevens, who won the Conn Smythe Award as the playoffs' MVP, and Claude Lemieux, who won the Conn Smythe when the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995, also have fished the Kenai.
Jason Arnott, who scored the game winner as the Devils clinched the Cup in Game 6 against the Dallas Stars, also is expected to do some fishing in Alaska this summer.
"I guess I'm supposed to take him fishing," Gomez said of his fellow forward.
While Gomez, listed as 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, longed for some fishing on his visit to Kenai, the reality of his meteoric rise to stardom is that he won't have much free time this summer.
He already has done a number of public appearances in Anchorage since he returned to Alaska last weekend and has a number more scheduled.
The big one on that list is July 14, when the Stanley Cup will be coming to Anchorage.
"I only get it for 24 hours," Gomez told the crowd Saturday. "I better keep it in Anchorage. They've got dibs on it."
As of Saturday afternoon, details of where in Anchorage the Stanley Cup will be displayed were not yet available.
Carlos Gomez, Scott's father, said his son has been taking all the attention in stride.
"The only problem with Scott's success is that it's ruining my fishing season," Carlos said. "His first week here has been pretty hectic, but it comes with the territory.
"Things certainly could be worse."
Carlos said the attention given to Gomez in Alaska has been great for the sport of hockey.
"I've heard of a lot of people watching because they're interested in seeing him play," Carlos said.
One of those people is Soldotna's Wayne Wakely. Like Carlos, Wakely is an iron worker and he has known Carlos for 25 years.
Wakely said he met Scott for the first time Saturday. Before that, he just remembered him as a little kid.
"I never watched hockey until this season," Wakely said. "I'm starting to figure out what's going on in the sport."
Wakely also said he has seen little change in Carlos or the Gomez family due to Scott's newfound fame.
"Carl's going to keep him straight," Wakely said. "I can guarantee you that."
Anchorage's John Harth, another iron worker who has known the family for more than 20 years, also said Gomez is doing a good job handling fame.
"He's easy going," Harth said. "He's not letting it get to his head. He's just a real down-to-earth kid."
Gomez, who will be in Alaska until Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello says it's time to head back to New Jersey, said the prospect of following up his dream rookie season is not intimidating.
"No, because that's hockey," Gomez said. "Every year is a different challenge than the year before."
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