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San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton doesn’t usually make time to watch the NHL All-Star Game, unless he’s competing in it. He takes time off, leaves hockey behind for a weekend.
But this year? He’s watching All-Star weekend.
Because of John Scott.
“One of the best guys ever,” said Thornton of Scott, his friend from their time together in San Jose. “Can't wait to see him out there, and I'll watch it now that he's playing in it.”
Scott, a 33-year-old veteran enforcer who has played just 11 games this year, was selected to the game via a fan vote*. The fan campaign has stoked strong emotions, both good and bad, throughout the hockey world. Nashville Predators general manager David Poile called Scott’s candidacy “unfortunate.” Some members of the media ripped it, while others praised it.
So why did Scott decided to put the controversies, and the motivations of those fans, aside and attend All-Star weekend in Nashville?
Scott is going to the game for his family.
When it was announced he had made the team as the Pacific Division’s captain, his wife and two kids pushed for him to head to Nashville to partake in the newly revamped 3-on-3 tournament with all the NHL’s top players.
“It’s one of those things where I never thought I’d be able to get to go, so when I found out it was a possibility my family was like, ‘you have to go. It’s going to be so cool,’” Scott said in a phone conversation with Puck Daddy last week. “They’re excited for it – probably more excited than I am. It’ll be one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experiences.”
The only way Scott doesn’t go is if his wife goes into labor. The couple is expecting twins soon.
“I’m not going to exert my wife that much. I don’t want her to go into labor during the game,” Scott joked. “I think everyone’s just getting a little panicky now that I’m going.”
That includes those in the NHL that are concerned what Scott in a skills competition and a 3-on-3 tournament is going to look like.
“Everyone was worried the whole game’s going to go, kind of to (crap), but the All-Star Game hasn’t been going well the last few years, so maybe they’re trying to make it more serious and stuff,” said Scott. “I just kind of try to tune out all that stuff and focus on what I have to deal with in Arizona and we’ll worry about the All-Star Game when I get there.”
Stu Grimson never had a chance to fight John Scott, having thrown his last punch in the NHL in 2002 after years as a fan favorite enforcer.
But he understands Scott’s All-Star Game inclusion: No matter how Scott became part of the event, Grimson believes he earned the position through support of hockey fans.
“I’ve heard folks say, and I think this is an unfortunate term, it’s like ‘voting the nerd to be prom king’ kind of thing. I don’t know. There’s this possibility for things to work out this way but the fans wouldn’t get behind some cause célèbre and have something like this happen,” said Grimson, now a Nashville Predators TV analyst.
“Unless you want to revamp the way the current system works, I think everybody has to look at it and just kind of say, ‘Let’s just enjoy it for the moment and not make a big fuss over it.’”
There’s sort of a ‘last hurrah’ type feel with Scott and the All-Star Game, both for him and the enforcer role. He said he believed last season would be his final year in the NHL and was surprised when the Arizona Coyotes signed him to a one-year $575,000 contract in the offseason. With fighting down in the league, Scott’s going to the All-Star Game is being billed as one of the final crowning moments for old school enforcers.
But at its core, it’s also a celebration of Scott’s career, his perseverance, his personality and his intelligence
At Michigan Tech, the 6-foot-8 Scott was a hulking defenseman. After he graduated, he only fought so he could continue to play the game. He has a degree in engineering and has the smarts to go into that field. But he’s never considered it because of his love of hockey.
“I didn’t start fighting until I made it to [the Chicago Blackhawks] and started fighting a little more, but it’s nice to kind of go back and show people I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can do different things. I can actually make a pass and shoot the puck and skate a little bit,” Scott said.
“Hockey’s a game and it’s easy to do and it’s fun. Why would you work when you can just play hockey and play a kid’s game your whole life? I think it’s kind of a no-brainer.”
During his career, he’s been more than just a fighter off the ice. Scott was also the Blackhawks’ NHLPA player representative during his time there. He was also a good friend of Derek Boogaard from when they were teammates with the Minnesota Wild and Boogaard’s 2011 death, from an overdose on prescription painkillers, had a profound effect on Scott.
Behind the scenes, has been a loud voice on limiting access to painkillers in the league.
“I tell guys all the time now to be as careful as you can be when you’re taking these drugs and stuff like that. They’re easy to get hooked on. It’s just a slippery slope, especially with athletes,” Scott said. “They have a very different personality and just kind of fall into things without knowing it, so I’m passionate about it and I think it should be monitored and everybody should be aware of it.”
Scott’s career has been full of contract-related stress. Out of his seven NHL contracts, six have been one-year deals, according to General Fanager. His other was a two-year contract from the Blackhawks. The most he’s made on a per-year basis was $750,000 on a one-year contract from the Buffalo Sabres in 2013-14.
“It’s nerve-racking. I think a huge factor is my wife and my family. They take it as an adventure,” Scott said. “My wife is very adventurous. She’s up for anything. If she wasn’t beside me and said it was OK, I would have been done a few years ago. They’ve been supporting me and coming along with me with this little journey I’ve been on. If it wasn’t for them I would have been done a few years ago.”
Scott’s had his share of disciplinary problems in the NHL. He was suspended seven games for a headshot of Boston Bruins winger Loui Eriksson. He received a four-game suspension for a butt-end of Ducks tough guy Tim Jackman. Phil Kessel once swung his stick at Scott for an incident in the 2013 preseason.
Scott is adored by teammates, but not by opponents. Could this create some awkward moments over the weekend?
Scott said it won’t be a problem.
“The game’s on the ice and off the ice is going to be fine. I’ve been in weird situations with teammates before who I fought and stuff like that and had issues with, but that’s just on the ice,” Scott said. “When you’re off the ice, everyone’s just kind of, they’re nice guys and there to have fun. I’m not too worried about it.”
But what about on the ice?
Scott is a trained tough guy. Checking is generally frowned upon in the All-Star Game.
“I don’t know if I’m going to have to suppress [urges to be physical] too much. (Jaromir) Jagr and (Claude) Giroux are talking about fighting me,” Scott joked. “We’ll see if that ever comes to fruition but when it comes to hitting, I’m going to have to take it down a notch and not go running around out there. It’s going to be a little bit different because I’m trained to go out there and hit people. I’m not just going to deke around guys like the guys I’m playing against.”
There’s also the skills competition.
Scott said he’s taken part in one before – when he was with the Minnesota Wild. He fired a shot in the 99 mph range and did a puck relay event.
But for Scott, it’s more about having fun with his family and celebrating his perseverance in today’s NHL. He said he bought a new suit for the event so he looks good on the red carpet. Scott’s four-year-old knows that the All-Star Game is “a special game for daddy,” while his two-year-old is looking forward to all the festivities around the game.
“They kind of get it,” Scott said. “I think they’ll appreciate the mascots more than anything to be honest with you.”
Those around the NHL have taken noticed of how Scott has handled this situation. He didn’t electioneer to go to the game, and didn’t seek the spotlight.
“He recognizes the kind of player he is, he recognizes how this has all come together just in terms of his background,” said Grimson, who became a lawyer following his career. “I think he’s handling it in a very down-to-earth, very kind of an affable and gregarious way and at the same time making the most of it. I think he should be commended for the way he’s carried himself through all this.”
Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy. He can be reached on Twitter @JoshuaCooper.
(* In full disclosure, this site played a role in that fan campaign.)
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