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John Scott almost didn't show up for historic NHL All-Star Game moment

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The NHL nearly got its wish. John Scott came 20 minutes away from not playing in its All-Star Game.

Scott wasn't at the rink for warmups. He missed the meeting to review how the new three-on-three tournament format works. He missed the coach's conference.

A phone call from a panicky NHL employee wondered if Scott was coming at all.

Many would understand if Scott staged a protest. The journeyman enforcer had been turned into a pawn, sent from the Arizona Coyotes to the Montreal Canadiens and then to the edge of the continent to keep him from playing in the NHL All-Star Game.

He was sick and tired. Literally.

The phone call awakened him in his hotel room across the street from Bridgestone Arena. His game started in 20 minutes.

One of the greatest stories in NHL history, capping a feel-good weekend that I think should make Scott a candidate for Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" honor, came that close to not happening.

"I almost missed the game," Scott told me last week at his home near Lake Michigan. He said it was the first time he had revealed his narrow escape from international humiliation. "I wasn't feeling good, so I took a nap."

Scott was drained from the day before, when he participated in the All-Star Skills Competition as a bastard, wearing the NHL's crest instead of an actual team like the rest of the players.

He considered taking an IV to find some energy before the big game, but lay down instead. Scott's wife, Danielle, was in the hotel room with him. She assumed he had everything under control, even examining his iPhone to see the alarm clock had been set.

The players' hotel, fortunately for Scott, was within nervous-jogging distance.

"I didn't realize all the teams warm up at the same time," said Scott, whose Pacific Division squad played in the second game. "I would have gone there really early and hung out and experienced it and got some autographs.

"I didn't even tape my stick. I didn't tie my skates that well. I just jumped right on the ice."

A sarcastic online campaign to vote him into the game -- a campaign he had nothing to do with -- produced the most votes for Scott, making him the Pacific Division captain. The NHL wanted him to disavow the movement. The Coyotes offered no support.

He refused to back out. Then he got dealt to St. John's, Newfoundland, a city closer to Casablanca than to Phoenix.

Scott admitted he was wound tightly for the All-Star Skills Competition. There would be no teammates to cover for him. Scott wanted to show he wasn't merely some goon.

On his first attempt for the hardest shot, his hands shook uncontrollably.

"In the skills competition you sit around and sit around and can stew and then have one 10-second thing you need to do," Scott said.

"If I went out there and embarrassed myself, everyone would have been like Ewwwwww. I didn't embarrass myself. I didn't come in last; I didn't come in first."

Scott's slap shot reached 95.9 mph, faster than Aaron Ekblad's and Tyler Seguin's.

Fan outrage toward the NHL compelled the league to let him play in the All-Star Game and, when it declined to put him on the MVP ballot, get him written in for that award, too. He was a legitimate MVP, with two goals for the winning squad.

Teammates Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Mike Giordano lifted Scott onto their shoulders. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman handed him their team's oversized $1 million check.

"It was cool to see John smiling and happy again," Danielle Scott said. "It takes a lot to get him down. He's a happy-go-lucky person, but this whole thing had turned into ..."

She halted her thought and glanced at him on the other end of their basement couch.

"It was good to see him enjoy the weekend," she said.

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