NASHVILLE – John Scott, captain of the Pacific Division All-Stars, sat on the bench between Taylor Hall and Johnny Gaudreau. Their team was leading the final game of the NHL’s new 3-on-3 mini-tournament. The fans would vote on the event’s Most Valuable Player, an honor that included a new car.
Three Twitter hashtags flashed on the Bridgestone Arena video screens, revealing the three MVP candidates selected by the NHL. They were goalie Roberto Luongo of the Atlantic Division, Hall and Gaudreau.
John Scott, who scored twice in the preliminary game and was the single most popular player in Sunday’s tournament, had been snubbed.
“I was sitting next to Johnny and Taylor on the bench, and I said, ‘You guys better give me that van, because I need it,’” said Scott, whose wife is expected to deliver twins this week, to go along with their two young daughters.
What happened next was the epitome of Scott’s surreal All-Star journey: The NHL thudding, clueless reaction to his unexpected popularity; the fans rallying to defend the people’s champion; and the off-script, utter chaos that support causes.
They booed. Loudly. They chanted “JOHN SCOTT!”, loudly. Ther screamed “MVP!” whenever Scott touched the puck.
They pulled out their phones inside the arena, as others did around the world while watching the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, and tweeted “#VoteJohnScott” again and again and again.
And so it ended as it began: With a fan vote. With people – for various reasons – shoving a career enforcer with five goals in 285 career games to the top of the All-Star voting leaderboard. With the NHL seeking to subvert or deny that will, either through disregard or disqualification. With those fans’ voices growing louder, more defiant, and eventually forcing the NHL to acknowledge the man and the movement.
So the same organization that told John Scott to reconsider his All-Star status because of what “his daughters would think” now had to reconsider their own decision on Scott, as his daughters watched from the stands.
As the Pacific Division won the All-Star Game tournament, 1-0, the NHL had to acknowledge that Scott received the most Twitter votes – although, like with the initial fan vote that got him into the game, no totals were revealed – and was the 2016 NHL All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.
(They also probably knew that anyone not named “John Scott” from the Pacific Division team would have been lustily booed by the Nashville fans.)
With that, Scott was lifted off the ice by Drew Doughty and Brent Burns in celebration.
“I was nervous. Scared. I’m not a light guy – almost 275 pounds. It was nerve-wracking,” said Scott. “Especially Burnsie. Such a spaz.”
Burns was Scott’s teammate with the San Jose Sharks, and has been his leading advocate during the NHL All-Star weekend. Seeing the big man snipe two goals in the previous game, and more than admirably hang playing in the 3-on-3, was no surprise to him.
“He’s a great player,” said Burns. “We said it before: You have your own role. You do it. It comes down to minutes and opportunities. But to get to this league and play, you have to be a good player.”
Scott vowed he would score six goals in the game. He came up four short.
“I was just joking that this is more goals than I’ve scored in, like, 200 games,” said Scott on the bench during the game.
His first goal came on his first shift.
Burns set him up near the net for a deflection past Pekka Rinne. Scott celebrated as the fans roared – although he didn’t exactly celebrate as he wanted.
Scott said on Friday that he intended for his goal celebration – should he score one – to honor an NHL fighting great. “I wanted to ride my stick at center ice a la Tiger Williams. But Burnsie got in the way. So I had to veer to the side and do a ‘Subban’ instead,” said Scott, whose exaggerated fist pump mimicked that of P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.
His second goal, came on a breakaway:
“I knew [Matt] Duchene was behind me, so I have to try and shield it, was going to protect it a little bit. I saw [Devan] Dubnyk come out a little bit. I picked the corner and went for it.”
Burns bear hugged him. The Pacific bench was alive. The fans, again, were euphoric.
The legendary Jaromir Jagr, whose team Scott defeated in the final, wasn’t surprised.
“You gotta understand he plays in the league. He plays in the NHL. He plays for a lot of years,” he said. “The difference between the best player in the NHL and maybe the worst player, it’s very small. It’s not huge. The gap is not huge. It’s not like it used to be.”
When Scott was voted into the All-Star Game, Jagr said that he was afraid Scott might fight him.
“I’m glad we didn’t have a big lead or otherwise he would jump on me,” joked Jagr. “That’s why we kept it close.”
But Scott did find time to drop the gloves with an old friend.
One of the rarest things to see in an NHL All-Star Game is a bodycheck, and it was made even rarer in the wide-open 3-on-3 format. But Scott caught Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks with a solid hit during their games against the Central Division.
Which then led to Kane dropping his mitts to “fight” Scott.
“I didn’t mean to hit him. He kind of skated into me, and I knew I was going to hit so I finished it off,” Scott said. “And then he came right after me after he scored, so we ‘fought.’ But we’ve wrestled around before in the past.”
It wouldn’t be the only physical mismatch of the night. John Scott towered over NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as he held the Pacific Division’s championship check. Bettman met with Scott on Thrusday night after Scott’s incendiary Players’ Tribune piece spelled out the pressure applied on him by the Arizona Coyotes and the NHL to pull out of the game.
“He said ‘I’m proud of you. That was quite the story, Quite the game. We’re just happy you’re here,’” said Scott.
The money, he said, will be pooled so the Pacific Division All-Star Game champions can take a trip at the end of the season. The van, he said, will come in quite handy with his expanding brood.
The MVP honors, he said, are a gift from his fans.
“They got me in the game, and they got me a van and stuff. It’s crazy,” he said. “The fans have been unbelievable. It just gives you goose-bumps when you think about what they’ve done for me.
The All-Star Game is no longer the solemn meritocracy it was 30 years ago. It’s on its fourth format change in 16 years. Its players are chosen to check boxes on team representation and positional need.
So it’s actually OK if a player like John Scott – who’d never be considered among the elite talents of the NHL but embraced the All-Star experience in ways they could never hope to – wins a fan vote and participates in the game.
That should be the lesson learned here for the NHL, which played a strange role in this fairy tale: antagonist, gatekeeper, snobbish, stubborn, but ultimately essential for Scott’s transformation from a “joke” candidate insurgent to a populist victim of nefarious corporate scheming.
He doesn’t become a cult hero if they didn’t attempt to deny him his achievement. His legion of fans doesn’t become an army if they don’t actively try to prevent this underdog tale to play out, from the moment the fan vote ended to the Coyotes trading him to an AHL fate to an NHL evoking his family in an attempt to guilt him out of the game,
Were it not for the NHL’s fervent desire to see that he wouldn’t be an All-Star, Scott wouldn’t have been one, and certainly wouldn’t have had the fan support to force them to rewrite their MVP script.
“I never believed I’d be in All-Star Game, score two goals, have the fans behind you like that,” said Scott. “I thought I was going to be in the background. Enjoy it behind the scenes. And it definitely didn’t turn out that way. I loved it. It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done in hockey, for sure.”
Who know who else thought it was cool?
The coolest guy in the NHL.
“You know what, he truly deserved it. That’s the funniest thing. He deserved it. The fans voted for him and he deserved it. He played good,” said Jaromir Jagr, 43-year-old future Hall of Famer with the Florida Panthers.
“If somebody’s very unwanted, he becomes [a] hero. That’s why I love it. There was the story. The guy was unwanted from the NHL and I think from the NHL, whatever happened today I think it’s probably [one of] the best stories to happen at All-Star Game.”