NASHVILLE – You can take all your potshots about dumping All-Star games and limit them to the Pro Bowl. The NHL found a keeper here Sunday. And we’re always going to remember this one because of a guy who’s not even in the league right now.
Going 3-on-3 produced some great play by both skaters and goaltenders. It produced a memorable “fight” between Patrick Kane and John Scott, the people’s choice all weekend.
And, lo and behold, it produced some compelling hockey. Even for millionaires, you put a million bucks in front of them and they play.
The Pacific Division won the title with a 1-0 victory over the Atlantic in the championship game in Bridgestone Arena but this was all about the Great Scott.
The NHL pretty much couldn’t get out of its own way the last few weeks. Imagine what this weekend would have been like without Scott. Gary Bettman’s absurd denials on Saturday aside, the league didn’t want him here.
Then as the final minutes wound down, the league announced the MVP candidates were Roberto Luongo, Johnny Gaudreau and Taylor Hall and the winner would be chosen on Twitter. Social media won again. There was such an immediate groundswell of #ScottforMVP hashtags that it would have been an utter fiasco to ignore.
Bridgestone Arena went flat-out bonkers when it was announced Scott was the MVP and the winner of a Honda SUV.
“You can’t put it into words. You can’t write this stuff,” Scott said. “It’s unbelievable how this happened. You never know what to expect. I thought I’d be in the background and enjoy it behind the scenes. It was a whirlwind, went by so fast. But I loved it. It’s the best thing I’ve done in hockey for sure.”
When it was over, former San Jose teammate Brent Burns urged his Pacific mates to lift Scott on their shoulders. The crowd roared again.
“I was nervous, scared,” Scott said. “I’m not a very light guy. I’m about 275 pounds, 300 soaking wet. Nervewracking. Especially with Burnsie. He’s such a spaz. I thought they were going to drop me on my head.”
Scott, as his team’s captain, went to center ice to accept a giant $1 million check from Bettman for the victory. From the man who clearly didn’t want him here.
“He said, “I’m proud of you. That was quite the story, quite the game and have fun with it. We’re happy you’re here,’ ’’ Scott said. “It was nice to hear that. I have no ill will towards him or anybody. It was stand up of them to let me play in this.”
“John is the ultimate professional,” said Central coach Lindy Ruff. “When I was around John back in Buffalo, I thought the world of him. As a teammate for the players, he was one of the best teammates. The way he handled this whole situation, the way he played, I’m so happy for him. He’s a first-class guy.”
Scott scored two goals in his team’s 9-6 win over the Central in its semifinal game. One came just 47 seconds into the game and the other on a breakaway he cleanly sniped past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubynk. He said he wanted to ride his stick like a horse to center ice as Tiger Williams used to do in Toronto in the 1970s but Burns got in his way, so Scott stuck with a P.K. Subban impression by going down to one knee and sweeping at the ice with his glove.
“I didn’t expect to score, especially in the first shift. It was crazy,” he said. “You can’t make this stuff up. It was nuts.”
He was also in the middle of the game’s lightest moment, when he hit Kane and then Kane dropped the gloves and started a mock fight with his former Chicago teammate a few seconds later.
“That was unexpected. I don’t know if I expected too much hitting in the All-Star Game, let alone 3-on-3 in the All-Star Game,” Kane said. “He caught me off guard pretty good there. This whole weekend is about fun. The whole sequence with him hitting me, him going down on a breakaway getting a shot, me going back the other way and scoring a goal and then the fight after will be something pretty cool for people to play over and over again.”
Scott was laughing about it too.
“I didn’t mean to hit him. He kind of cut into me,” Scott said. “I knew I was going to hit him so I kind of finished it off. I definitely hit him. He came right after me after he scored and said, ‘Let’s go.’ We’ve wrestled around in the past. It was fun.”
The same could be said about the whole weekend. Last year’s 17-12 shinnyfest in Columbus was such a disgrace that most folks said the league should scrap the whole thing. This format seemed like a revelation.
“Originally, I thought it was a great idea,” said Dallas center Tyler Seguin. “Now that I played in it, it should be the way to go every year.”
“There can always be tweaks,” said Ruff. “But I think the format is here to stay for a while.”
Players seemed to understand there could be no repeat of Columbus.
“A lot more open space and a lot more intensity as far as guys trying when they had the puck,” Kane said. “It was definitely a step in the right direction. I think we wanted to come out and make sure we were more intense than last year and it was a job well done by the players.”
And a job well done by Nashville. The scene all weekend has been spectacular. Broadway has been mobbed with people – and we’re talking people wearing NHL sweaters. Bars, restaurants and hotels have been packed.
The city did an outdoor festival across the street from the arena with food trucks, displays and a giant concert stage. The utterly massive Music City Center next door hosted Fan Fair, where thousands of fans played interactive games, got in autograph lines, suited up in hockey gear and took pictures with the Stanley Cup and the league’s other trophies.
The fans roared for their four hometown players and for Scott and lustily booed Kane from the hated Blackhawks. Country music was everywhere, inside the arena and out.
Now reality hits. Scott will have to return to Newfoundland later this week. To the AHL. His wife is due to give birth to twins any day. His two daughters under 5 were at the game Sunday and one remarked to him after as he was moving through the arena halls, “What’s going on? Why does everybody want to talk to you?”
His daughters will be proud of dad when they’re old enough to watch this tape, no matter what some NHL dinosaur tried to tell Scott about his family last week.
In fact, the whole hockey world is proud of him now. The league found a new way to make its All-Star Game must-see TV.
All because it tried to make John Scott go away. Utter foolishness.