Now that the pro football season is over and we’re a good two months away from the start of the MLB season, I’d like to turn your attention to the National Hockey League, which just experienced one of the absolute most bizarre things I’ve ever seen happen in the world of sports.
At the heart of this story is seasoned defender John Scott. Scott, to put it bluntly, is what is commonly known in the sport as “a goon.” Finesse and grace are not his forte. In the eight seasons he’s played in the NHL, he’s accumulated just five goals and six assists. Meanwhile, he’s logged on 548 penalty minutes – more than nine hours in the box – for doing the only thing he’s really fit to do in hockey, which is beat the tar out of other players. Scott, an Edmonton native, has played for six different NHL teams. For the most part, he’s had a rather unremarkable professional career – but starting in January, all of that changed.
When 2016 began, Scott played for the Arizona Coyotes. Now, as to why the suburbs of Phoenix even has a professional ice hockey team, I can’t tell you. On Jan. 2, Scott was selected by NHL fans to be the captain of the Pacific Division at the upcoming All-Star Game –a sort of weird, Schadenfreude display of populism that’s the sports equivalent of a joke write-in candidate winning an actual election.
On Jan. 15, Scott was traded to the Montreal Canadiens and immediately demoted to one of their minor league affiliates. According to TSN anchor Bob McKenzie (is there a more Canadian sounding name than that?), the owner of the Coyotes purposefully traded Scott away to keep him from embarrassing the team in the All-Star Game. In The Player’s Tribune, Scott penned a downright pitiful op-ed in which he described how the NHL brass requested he remove himself from the all-star line for his own good.
Alas, Scott – despite not technically being an NHL player anymore – nonetheless refused to give up his spot on the roster. With Internet fans backing him with an almost CM Punk circa 2011 zeal, the NHL capitulated; Scott, lamentably, would remain the captain of the Pacific Division for the All-Star Game.
Now, that alone would make for one of the strangest happenings in pro hockey in quite some time. But what happened next is downright unbelievable.
So, Scott indeed shows up at the All-Star Game. Since he’s not on any NHL team, the League forced him to wear a generic Pacific Division badge on his shoulder. Because the NHL has no concerns about being accessible to new fans anymore, this year’s All-Star Game format was radically different. For one thing, there would only be three-on-three play (imagine the MLB All-Star game trying to draw in more viewers by removing the outfielders) and instead of two teams going toe-to-toe for three full periods, there would be two 20-minute games between the two divisions in the eastern and western conferences, with the winners of those games doing battle in a one-off showdown.
Less than a minute into the Pacific All-Stars/Central All-Stars clash, the 6’8 defender, on an assist from Brent Burns, snuck the puck past goalie Pekka Rinne. The out-of-nowhere score drew a standing ovation from the Nashville, Tenn. crowd – which may indeed be the only NHL city where the aggregate citizen actually has less teeth than the players. In the waning moments of the first period of play (to make things even more convoluted, the 20 minute mini-games were split up into two 10 minute rounds), Scott decided to absolutely level Chicago Blackhawks star (and accused rapist) Patrick Kane, which is sort of like a football secondary calling an all-out blitz on their own quarterback in a scrimmage game. And after Kane scored seconds later, he and Scott – naturally – got into a mock brawl.
Then, about three minutes into the second period, Scott scored again. This time, it was a beautiful breakaway goal on Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The Pacific division would go on to best the Central Division 9-6, and win a close 1-0 game over the Atlantic Division in the All-Star finals (while Scott played a good five minutes, he only had two shots … apparently, those kids on the East Coast actually know how to play defense.)
And when it came time to crown the MVP of the All-Star Game, who did the fans select as the first star of the contest? Oh, I think you already know the answer – write-in candidate John Scott.
The best part? Since he was named MVP, he also won a $1 million cash bonus – and the person who had to personally hand him the gigantic, oversized check was none other than NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the physical embodiment of the corporate leviathan that said he just wasn’t “good enough” for their product.
You just can’t make stuff like this up. An absolutely giant dude that got into pro hockey by a complete fluke (he says the only reason he go into the sport was to help pay for his engineering degree), who gets thrust into the national spotlight as a mockery, has to move his wife and kids 4,000 miles away, and when he finally does get his big moment in the sun – against all conceivable odds – he puts on the performance of his life and sends a big old “eff yew” to his unappreciative employer in the most delicious way possible.
Is the MVP performance enough to get Scott back in the NHL? Eh, maybe, maybe not. Conspiracy theories are already abound that the entire Scott saga was manufactured by the NHL to garner publicity, but that’s ludicrous – I mean, when was the last time you recalled the NHL higher-ups doing anything to bring more eyes to the sport?
Regardless, the nearly 300-pound, working-class, family man – over the course of one afternoon – became an ineffaceable part of hockey lore. Even if Scott never steps foot inside an NHL rink ever again, he’s already one of the sport’s greatest folk heroes – in fact, just hours after the game, his agents had already been contacted by Hollywood heavy hitters, who want to turn his life story into a movie.
Sure, Scott’s amazing turnaround may be nothing more than a quirky diversion in the grander scope of things. But his unlikely success nonetheless speaks to a much greater truth – that as long as you work as hard as you can and never give up, eventually, you’ll get your chance.
And who knows? Just like Johnny, you might even do better than you’d ever imagined when your big moment finally arises.