Accidental NHL All-Star John Scott deserves spot

by | Jan 24, 2016 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Play by the rules! Fans say that all the time. But when John Scott played by the rules, he was ridiculed. And next weekend, at the NHL All-Star Game, it could come to an ugly end — or an admirable one.

Depends on how you see it.

If you haven’t followed the John Scott saga, it reads like a Disney movie — with violence. A career “enforcer,” Scott usually makes news only when he gets suspended for fighting. In more than eight seasons, he has been with seven NHL teams. He has just five goals — and 542 penalty minutes!

But when the NHL decided to alter its All-Star Game to a 3-on-3 format and open the voting to anyone with a computer, Scott went from obscure bruiser to cult hero. Someone made a joking suggestion in a podcast, forces in cyberspace gathered, and Scott suddenly rose to the top of the heap.

To the horror of NHL brass, Scott surpassed players like Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin to become the top vote-getter in the NHL. That, by the rules, made him captain of his divisional team.

Reportedly, the league tried to get Scott to excuse himself. At first, he nearly did. But after talking to his wife — who is expecting twins — and some fellow players, the 33-year-old decided to experience what he would never experience otherwise.

That’s when his team, the Arizona Coyotes, traded him to Montreal, which promptly sent him to the minors. Some suspect the NHL supported that move, in hopes that Scott would abandon his dream.

He didn’t.

And that’s when people got mad.

Fans called him a joke. A New York Post columnist called him “an itinerant palooka” and wondered how Scott will explain his selfish behavior to his kids.

Thick skin

I called John Scott in Newfoundland, where he currently is with the St. John’s Ice Caps. He was easy to get ahold of and extremely polite over the phone.

“I’m well aware that I should not be at the All-Star Game based on talent,” he said. “This is gonna be a one-time thing. I guarantee next year they’re gonna change the rules. But I talked to a lot of former tough guys, and they said, ‘You know what? Just go.’ We’re kind of a dying breed. So it’s paying homage to them. And it might be fun for fans to see what someone who isn’t a 50-goal scorer can do.”

I agree. For one thing, it’s not the first time a league has dealt with ballot-stuffing. Not even the first time for the NHL. In 2007, they had a similar Internet-fueled voting surge for journeyman Rory Fitzpatrick.

And how many times do players with inferior years get picked for their popularity? Who says All-Stars are always the best?

But that hasn’t stopped the insults. Scott has thick skin. But he bristles at the idea that he’s going to embarrass the sport.

“I keep having to remind people I’ve been playing in the NHL for eight years. I do know how to skate and pass and play hockey. I mean, come on.”

Head up

Now, you can say we shouldn’t reward Internet pranksters. Fair enough. But if the All-Star Game is really for fans, then John Scott, who grew up in Ontario and spent four years at Michigan Tech, earning a mechanical engineering degree, is a lot closer to fans than, say, a Russian prospect who’s showered with money upon turning pro.

Scott calls himself “a-year-at-a-time guy.” Only once did he sign a two-year deal. Otherwise, “every summer, I’m wondering where I’m playing — or if I’m playing.”

If his skill is more in fists than skates, well, teams keep hiring him, right? It’s hypocritical for fans who delight in hockey brawls to insist Scott not soil the pageantry of an All-Star Game.

And if nothing else, his two kids, parents, in-laws and expectant wife get to cheer as he skates with the best. “That’ll be the nicest moment,” he said.

John Scott didn’t ask for this. But the league made the rules; it can’t wiggle out when they backfire. While I’m not crazy about his track record of fighting, I admire Scott for keeping his head up.

“I’m not going to get all depressed. … I’ve had a great life in hockey. I’m going to look on the bright side.”

As for that New York Post critic, here’s what Scott can one day tell his kids: that he did his best and he played by the rules. What’s wrong with being proud of that?


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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