February 8, 2016
This is a story about a hockey player. But even more than that, it’s a story about a human.
I started writing this as a Facebook post but it got much longer and detailed than I expected. I know this blog is mostly about running, but this is a great motivational story that transcends hockey, and kind of just warms the heart.
So, this is a little summary of the roller coaster for a little known NHL player named John Scott. Never heard of him? Neither had I.
The brief Wikipedia article about him tells you most of what you’d need to know: He was born in Edmonton, Alberta and raised in St. Cathrines, Ontario. He studied Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech while on a hockey scholarship, so I have double-respect for that already. He’s a big guy at 6’8” and 270 pounds. His salary is only $700,000 USD. He is admittedly not an ‘elite’ player; he knows his role is as an “enforcer.” He has been passed around a lot of teams and doesn’t get a lot of ice time.
He started the 2015-2016 season with the Phoenix Coyotes. He said it was a team full of underdogs and unwanted players, but this year they actually have a shot at making the playoffs (unlike the expensive yet ineffective Toronto Maple Leafs).
As the NHL All-Star games approached this year, this got very interesting. The NHL All-Star Game is usually a bit of a snooze. It’s not quite a joke like the NFL pro-bowl, but close. Many marquee players skip the event even if voted in by the fans because they’d prefer the extra days off to recover. Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is one such player this year who skipped the All-Star Game so he would be better recovered for the second half of the regular season.
Usually, fans are allowed to vote from a roster of top-tier stars. The NHL would limit the voting pool from the 700-or-so NHL players down to a more modest 3 or 4 per team. But, in a perhaps accidental twist this year, the NHL’s own rules allowed fans to vote for ANY player. So, somehow an internet campaign surfaced encouraging fans to vote for John Scott, perhaps one of the least famous and “worst” players in the NHL. This campaign was probably mean-spirited at first as a way of “trolling” the League management. Early in the voting Coyotes management asked Scott to discourage this and he did, instead encouraging fans to vote for more worthy teammates like Shane Doan or Mike Smith. That only seemed to intensify voting for Scott.
The story comes to a head where Scott not only collects enough votes to make the 30-man All-Star team, but enough votes to make him the CAPTAIN of the Pacific Division All-Star Team. And he was excited to do it. He started getting a lot of media attention and the fans and media started to fall in love with him. People fell in love with the gentle giant with two little girls and a 9-month pregnant wife who was expecting twins. What started as a joke selection kind of made him into an underdog hero.
Then the wheels start to come off. Coyotes management wanted him to turn down the opportunity. Apparently someone from the League called him and tried to talk him down too. Unfortunately for them, they hit a nerve with Scott. They asked him “Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?” And that galvanized him. He didn’t think he was a joke: To his kids he’s finally an All-Star.
Then some very dirty shenanigans start to happen. Shortly before the All-Star game, Scott was traded to the Montreal Canadiens and immediately “buried” in their AHL franchise, the St. Johns Ice Caps. Yes, St. John’s Newfoundland. Apparently, by trading him to Montreal he was now no longer representing a Pacific Division team. Further, being taken off an NHL roster should have made him ineligible for being in the All-Star Game. In a way, the big, bad, evil League schemed a way to outmaneuver the fans and keep such an “unworthy” player from gracing the front page.
Obviously there was fan backlash. There was lots of commentary, and some of it negative against Scott. Some commentators called him rather unkind things like a slow goon that can’t skate and said Scott was obviously unworthy of being in the NHL, let alone the All-Star Game. Scott’s response was great: He penned a beautiful article in The Players’ Tribune titled “A Guy Like Me”. It’s a beautiful piece for anyone chasing a dream. Read it now!!
Somehow, probably due to overwhelming pressure, John Scott was allowed to attend the 2016 NHL All-Star game. The circumstances are obviously a bit odd since he can’t technically represent the Phoenix Coyotes anymore. But, because he got so many votes, he was still the Captain of the Pacific Division Squad. So, he went representing no team. This was very evident in the skills competition when players were wearing their team jerseys, and Scott was in a generic NHL jersey.
But people fell in love with his very kind personality, winning smile, and of course, his family.
Now, to the actual All-Star Game on January 31. This year was a 3-on-3 tournament style series of matches between the NHL’s four divisions. And here’s the kicker: John Scott didn’t suck! In fact, he SCORED TWO GOALS!!!
There were so many feels throughout the game. His wife got excited by the first goal. After the second goal she said she had to calm herself down so that she didn’t go into labour DURING the game.
The Pacific Division went on to win the All-Star Game. Scott’s two goals certainly helped.
But wait! There’s more. During the game, voting occurred for the All-Star Game MVP. Given the League’s mean-spiritedness about this whole situation, it came as no surprise that Scott’s name wasn’t on the ballot. Fortunately, there was a “write in” spot for the voting, and guess who was the MVP? Who else??
When declared MVP, he actually didn’t acknowledge it, pointed to himself and said “me?”
And imagine that moment when Scott received his prize cheque from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Many suspect that Bettman was somehow involved in the scheme to bury Scott, and even if that wasn’t true, Bettman is still the representative of the entire League hierarchy. Many people can’t believe that Scott held his tongue at that moment.
In a post-game interview, Scott said that the Pacific Division All-Stars are going to pool the money and all take a trip together with their families after the season is over.
And, in an ending that couldn’t have been scripted better by a Hollywood feel-good story, the players hoisted him on their shoulders like a champion.
There are some great quotes that summarize the event:
“Now imagine how John Scott feels. He must be so, SO proud of himself, his family, his team, and his fans, for putting up with the unnecessary bullshit the NHL has put EVERYONE a through and coming out on top. That man deserves the world right now. The NHL keeps talking about how history was made. It’s kind of ironic, though, that the way I and every other fan sees it, history was made because of the NHL screwing up. History wasn’t made cause a minor league player was elected all star captain. It wasn’t because he was an underdog. It was made because this organization disrespected a player and his family and tried to prevent him from playing a game where he earned a spot fair and square, and he won, AND he was named MVP. Because of the him and the fans. WE did this. We rallied for Scott and stood up for what we believed in and we did it. We all won.”
“The fans made him a joke, the NHL made him a martyr, but his fellow players made him an MVP.”
I think this is one of those feel-good stories. I can already see this story being replayed in the 2016 year-in-review moments. And yes, John Scott may never play in the NHL again… maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs, they don’t seem to worried about having elite players. But, Scott went out on such a high note.
This whole story could be a movie. A fan has already made a potential poster: