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The John Scott Saga

The John Scott Saga
Former Buffalo Sabres enforcer an NHL All Star

As far as drama and must see TV goes, this weekend’s NHL All Star Game and festivities coming from Nashville, Tennessee are about to be as crazy as it will ever get.

Remember John Scott?

A Canadian native raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, Scott spent two seasons, from 2012 through 2014, as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, one of seven NHL clubs for which he has worn the uniform. He appeared in 90 games as a Sabre, collecting all of one goal and zero assists for a total of one point during his tenure here.

Now he is “officially” in the Montreal Canadiens organization. More importantly, he is an NHL All Star, receiving the highest score in fan voting. Mind you, in 285 NHL games, Scott has garnered 11 points. Total. At the same time amassing 542 penalty minutes.

To put it bluntly, Scott is an “enforcer.” A goon. One of those guys who occupies a roster spot for the sole purpose of inflicting discipline, punches and pain on the opponent when things in a game get too rough.

Scott’s rise from hockey obscurity to the center of the NHL’s showcase event came largely through a cult movement and energetic fan support shared via social media. The “Draft Scott” effort follows on the heels of a similar project that took place in 2007, when a campaign was thrown in action to place another Sabre, journeyman Rory Fitzpatrick, on the All Star roster. That effort failed, barely. But fast forward almost a decade later, and the power of the internet, of social media, of instant communication among fans and fan bases, is that much more powerful and robust. Not only did Scott win fan balloting. He swamped his competitors, including leading scorer Patrick Kane.

Once the results were in, some strange things happened. Scott was traded from the Arizona Coyotes to Montreal, where they immediately dispatched him to St. John’s, Newfoundland, to play in the minors, and about as far away geographically as one could get in the North American hockey universe. Some allege that the league honchos, trying to wipe the egg off of their collective faces, were orchestrating this move behind the scenes, or minimally, at least quietly applauding the action.

Fan and media reaction was instant, and largely negative. After all, the league set up the rules, and put them out there for everybody to abide by. If they don’t like the outcome, how could they change things after the fact?

Mind you, it’s not like John Scott is exactly some revered hockey giant or great fan favorite. Prior to this entire mess unraveling, most people who watch the game had never heard of John Scott. But there was something magical about rooting for the underdog, or to have plans made by the suits go so horribly wrong, or even an in your face finger to some of the few pampered athletes who are actually All Stars, and who have from time to time grumbled about having to show up to an event like this, much preferring to have the week off for rest and relaxation.

The behind the scenes pressure to get Scott to withdraw from the event became huge. Some major media outlets referred to him as a “meathead” and “an itinerant palooka.”

But then the tables turned. Once again, the forces of social media took the cause up in a big way, launching a #FreeJohnScott hashtag. The NHL’s Instagram page almost crashed from notes of outrage, demanding that the fans’ voice be recognized.

And the league capitulated.

Last week, the NHL issued a terse press release, stating that Scott will be admitted to the roster of All Stars in Nashville, and will captain the Pacific Division squad.

Scott consulted with his wife, who is expecting twins anytime now, his close friends and family members, and went against his initial decision to quietly bow out. Showing his thick skin, Scott admitted that the result of this will certainly be rule changes to how All Stars are picked. “But this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, or for anybody. Why wouldn’t I want to go?”

Scott will be playing on the ice this Sunday in a unique 3 on 3 format, which this season has been implemented for overtime games. As fans have seen, the format leads to a lot of odd man rushes, strategic line changes which follow puck movement, and an emphasis on skill. Scott readily admits that he might not be up for it, and calls his type of player, the enforcer, a “dying breed.”

Will Scott drop the gloves come Sunday? Physicality, hard checking and fights are a no no in these types of events, but Scott’s presence will certainly turn what is often a hum drum, routine event into something to watch.

And the guess from this corner is that this will be John Scott’s final game in an NHL uniform. The realities of politics in NHL board rooms and front offices are harsh and unforgiving. So tune in, and raise a toast to all the pugilists who have dazzled and entertained us as long as there has been hockey.

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