A Guy Like Me
JAN 28 2016
ALL-STAR / NHL
“Hey, John, can we talk for a second?”
I guess I should have known.
But I have absolutely no idea what’s coming.
I’m in the weight room, hanging out with the guys, when my GM asks me to take a walk. I’ve been gone for a couple of days — but now I’m back in Phoenix, at the Coyotes practice facility, catching up with the boys. We’re getting some stretches in, and passing around my new gloves.
My All-Star gloves.
I’ve seen my name in the news, on the press release, on the official rosters. But even still: there’s just something about gear, you know? I, John Scott, from Michigan Tech, at 33 years old … have All-Star gloves.
The guys are all genuinely happy for me, and they’re letting me know it. They’re giving me some crap about it, too (of course), but it’s all in good fun. Everyone’s taking their turn, trying my gloves on. We’re laughing. It’s a cool moment.
As this is happening, I see our GM open the door.
He’s not smiling.
“Hey, John, can we talk for a second?”
We head down the hall a few steps, into the stick room of all places, and he shuts the door.
And then he tells me point blank.
“You just got traded.”
Nope. No way.
“You’re shitting me.”
I hear him perfectly the first time, but I need him to say it again.
“We just traded you to Montreal. Yeah.”
My mind is racing a mile a minute. I know exactly what’s happened.
Still, I can’t help myself.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Enforcers don’t get traded midseason when their team is winning. If you know the league, you know that it just doesn’t happen.
“I’m not sure what to say, John. This is how it goes. We’re trying to make our team better. We had a chance to get a player, and we took it.”
I’ll keep the rest of the conversation private, because I’m a professional. But you can fill in the blanks. It is, as we say in this business, emotional.
When I get to my car, I immediately call my wife.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
I almost laugh. It’s all I can do.
“I just got traded.”
I can sense her mind racing a mile a minute, just like mine had.
“Nope. No. No way.”
She hears me perfectly the first time, but needs to hear it again.
“Yeah. Montreal. Well, actually … they already sent me down to the minors. So, Newfoundland.”
Newfoundland. Can you even get a flight from Phoenix to Newfoundland?
I pack up my stuff: my sticks, my skates, my gear. I walk back down to the gym, and grab my gloves — still sitting there, brand new, where the guys and I had been. John Scott, All-Star. I throw them in my bag, then place it in the trunk of my car, and begin the long drive home.
I try not to think about how young my daughters are, and how much they’ll hate the move. Or about the stress it will place on my wife, who is nine months pregnant with twins. Or about the fondness I feel for the guys in Phoenix — our group that no one believed in — and the pride I feel for what we’ve accomplished together. I try not to think about how I don’t want to leave.
And I try not to think about how I should have known.
Or about how my teammate called it — literally called it — way back before all of this got crazy.
How he texted me, “Dude, you’re 30th in the All-Star fan vote,” one night, out of the blue.
And then, how he added:
“They’ll never let you play, John. They’re never going to let you be there.
Not a guy like you.”
A guy like me.
You probably think you know me. Or at least the stereotype of John Scott. Well, let me tell you something that might surprise you: I never wanted to be a fighter. Growing up, I always made sure I had the Sherwood TP-70 stick.
Why? That was Ray Bourque’s stick. I was all about Ray Bourque, even though I lived in St. Catharines, Ontario. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. All my buddies loved the Leafs and Canadiens. So I picked the Bruins. I thought the logo was cool. I remember being so mad that they wouldn’t let us pick numbers past 30 in Squirt hockey. I wanted 77, so I could be like Ray.
Look, I get it. I’m 6-foot-8. Everybody’s first question is always, “Were you beating kids up back in youth hockey?”
No. Of course not. I was a stay-at-home defenseman. Never the best player. I got cut from every Junior B team I tried out for. The coaches kept saying, “Too big. Too slow.”
I was like, too big? What the hell am I supposed to do about that?
So I got faster. And I did just enough to get myself a scholarship to play hockey at Michigan Tech University. The way I saw it, I would never make the NHL, but I’d have an engineering degree. By 30, I’d be sitting in an office at GM back in sleepy Ontario, in my suit, and happy as hell about it.
This was the old Western Collegiate Hockey Association — home of the 10-hour bus ride to road games in Minnesota and North Dakota. We even played Alaska-Anchorage. I remember being on these 10-hour bus rides — down single-lane roads in rural Minnesota, snow flying around everywhere, heater broken — and all the Business majors are watching movies and goofing around.
And I’m sitting there propping my engineering book up on my knees, taking a thermodynamics test. These knuckleheads are watching Billy Madison, and I’m trying to answer:
Question 5: A gun fires a bullet at the velocity of X, through a stack of five mattresses with a thickness of X. Please calculate the terminal velocity of ….
The bus is cold and dark bumping up and down. I’ve got equations scrawled everywhere. My buddies are yelling out Sandler lines. So the last thought in my mind was, Some day, you’re going to be an NHL All-Star.
If you think this is like Joke Athlete Engineering — no. Freshman year, 50 percent of the students would fail out of the intro chemistry course. They literally used to set up a boombox as you walked into the final that blared Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
But, somehow, I made it through. I got my degree. I got engaged. I was ready for my cubicle at GM.
And then …
“Hey babe … I got an offer to play in the American Hockey League … in Houston.”
“No. No. No way.”
She thought it was insane. I made her a promise: give me three years. Three years, and then I’ll go back to the real world. I mean, I have my degree. What could happen?
In your mind right now, you’re probably thinking: classic. Big goon tries to fight his way all through the AHL to get a chance at The Show.
Well, here’s another thing about me you might not know: by 23, I had never been in a real hockey fight. Sure, I’d wrestled around in PeeWee and Juniors with a cage on, but that’s not real. I didn’t know the first thing about how to fight.
My first couple games in the AHL with the Houston Aeros, I heard this four, five times a game:
“Hey, ya big bastard, y’wanna go?”
“Let’s go. Right now.”
I kept saying, “Uh, no. No, I’m good.”
Then it happened. I’ll never forget being in the locker room before a game against Peoria.
We’re ready to go out onto the ice, and my coach looks around the room. Then he looks right at me, dead in the eyes.
“Scott. Do. Not. Fight. D.J. King.”
I’m like, “Who the hell is D.J. King?”
His eyes are bulging now, like, “D.J. King is a billed heavyweight. D.J. King is a freaking animal.”
So what I did was … I fought D.J. King.
And what he did was … he busted me right in the jaw.
At that moment, I realized, Oh, okay. Wow. This is what it feels like to get really hit. But somehow, I was able to keep my feet and kind of win the fight. My teammates went nuts.
And then I realized another thing: Oh, okay. Wow. This feels good. Not my face. That feels bad. But it feels good to make my teammates go nuts.
So that’s how it went. I embraced it, because it was my way forward, not because it was my nature. Fighting, no matter how big you are, is not easy. By my third year in the AHL (and final year of my promise to my fiance, now my wife), we were on a road trip when I got a call I never saw coming.
“Hey, the Wild want you in Calgary. Tonight.”
The Minnesota Wild. Wanted me to play in Calgary. I called everybody in my phone, told them I was playing in the NHL. Tonight. I think it was even a Hockey Night in Canada game.
I get to the airport, thinking about pulling on the sweater, skating out in front of 20,000 people.
“Sir, your passport?”
My fucking passport! No.
Back then, the only guys who took their passports on the road were the hotshots who thought they might get called to play a game in the NHL. In Canada. I was not one of those hotshots. (Because of me, they now make guys take their passports everywhere).
I begged the airport attendant. I showed her my driver’s license. I showed her pictures of me in my hockey jersey. I laid the Canadian accent on thick.
“Ma’am, I’m a Canadian citizen! I need to get on that flight. I’m suppose to play in the NHL tonight, eh?”
Nope. She wouldn’t budge. I was crushed. I mean, that’s not an easy call to make to an NHL team. “Hey, crazy story, uh … I don’t have my passport.”
I thought I was done. But, yet again, somehow things just worked out, and I got another chance a few weeks later. Against the Detroit Red Wings, of all teams. I hopped over the boards for my first shift, and I’m out against Pavel Datsyuk and Nick Lidstrom.
That’s a holy shit moment for ya. That’s a long way from the GM cubicle.
You know what? I stuck around. My wife and I had to move all across the country, year after year. But I stayed in the NHL, by any means necessary.
It is not easy. People think enforcers skate out there for two minutes a night, take a few pops and call it a night. What a life, right?
But I’ll be honest. You can never shut it off. It’s a 24/7 job. When you know a fight is coming up, you can never shut off your brain. You can be the toughest, baddest guy in the NHL, and there’s still that fear.
My first few years in the NHL, it was so bad that I wouldn’t sleep. I’d stay up all night on HockeyFights.com and YouTube, researching the tendencies of the next enforcer on the schedule. Steve Macintyre. Eric Godard. I could go on and on. You’d see these monsters on the schedule weeks in advance, and your mind would already start racing.
This is the job we sign up for. One day, my wife couldn’t take it anymore, and she said, “John, you know those guys you’re so worried about? They’re probably sitting at home on their laptop right now, watching you beat somebody up. They have the same fear.”
That was a breakthrough.
When I had my daughters, that helped, too. For some reason, it helped me shut off my brain when I came home. I became a hockey player that I hoped they could be proud of. I even scored three goals with the Sharks last season. They loved that.
“Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”
That was it, right there. That was the moment they lost me.
At first, when it became clear that I was going to win the All-Star fan vote, I understood the league’s position. They didn’t mince words — This is not a game for you, John — but I understood all the same. Honestly, on some level, I agreed.
In the beginning, at least, I just wanted the entire thing to go away. We were on a really fun run in Phoenix, and I was starting to feel like I was part of something. The Coyotes had been picked to finish dead last — but in the first half of the season, we’d surprised a lot of people. We were this strange collection of underdogs, and I fit right in. And I fit right in by doing what I do best: being a locker room guy, a no-nonsense guy, and a quiet yet effective enforcer.
I’ve gotten texts from so many guys saying the same thing: “You should go.”
One of the reasons I’ve made it as long as I have in the league is because I specifically know I’m not an All-Star.
So when they asked me to make a statement — nudging the fan vote in another direction and denouncing the John Scott “movement” — I did it without hesitation. I told the fans, “Listen. I don’t deserve this. Vote for my teammates.” And I was telling the truth.
But while I don’t deserve to be an All-Star, I also don’t think I deserve to be treated like I’ve been by the league throughout this saga. I’m an NHL player — and, whatever my set of skills may be, that I’m an NHL player is no accident. I genuinely believe that when I’m on the ice, or even just the bench, I make my teammates feel safe to do what they do best.
Does that make me an elite player? God, no. Am I going to be nervous as hell when I step onto the ice on Sunday — and I’m playing three-on-three, with Tarasenko whizzing by over one shoulder, and Toews putting the moves on me over the other? Of course. Will I be the worst skater in the game? I mean, probably.
But at the same time: this isn’t Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’m not some random person off the str
eet, and I didn’t win a golden ticket to “play hockey with the stars.” I won an internet fan vote, sure. And at some point, without question, it was a joke. It might even finish as a joke. But it didn’t start as one. It started with a very small pool, out of a very small pool, out of the very, very smallest pool of hockey players in the world: NHLers. That was the vote. A fan vote, an internet vote — but a vote from among the 700 or so best hockey players in North American professional sports.
And I’m one of them.
If the league thought this was an embarrassment, pretty much all of the players I’ve encountered have thought otherwise. I’ve gotten texts from so many guys saying the same thing: “You should go.”
And that didn’t happen because of the internet. I busted my ass to be one of them. I’ve skated every day since I was three years old to be one of them. I’ve persevered through Juniors roster cuts, Alaskan bus rides, Advanced Dynamics exams, and — yes — fights, to be one of them.
But I’m one of them. And that means a lot to me.
It means a lot to my family.
So when someone from the NHL calls me and says, “Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”
… That’s when they lost me.
That was it, right there. That was the moment.
Because, while I may not deserve to be an NHL All-Star, I know I deserve to be the judge of what my kids will — and won’t — be proud of me for.
The irony is that my daughters are two of the biggest NHL fans around. My oldest, Eva, loves hockey. Loves watching me play. Loves following my teams. And, yeah, she’s super-pumped about All-Star. My youngest, Gabriella, is a little too young to “follow” it — but she loves it all the same. She has all of my jerseys — from the Blackhawks, to the Wild, to the Rangers, to the Sharks — and she wears them constantly. And, in Phoenix, whenever Daddy would leave for a big game … she’d be right on cue:ahhh-oooooh. (That’s a coyote howling.)
When they see me on the ice on Sunday, will my girls be proud of me? Who knows. I like to think so. But I know they’ll be there for me — for their big, goofy dad — no matter what. They’ll be there, in the stands, cheering me on — wearing their Scott jerseys, and watching me try my best, have some fun and fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was, well, their age.
Eventually, when they’re old enough, I’m sure I’ll tell them the whole story. About that one crazy January, when they were younger: when our family moved all of a sudden; when we stopped howling,ahhh-oooooh; when the twins were born; and when their father made the news and played that weird game in Nashville.
It’ll be a pretty good story, I hope.
I imagine they’ll give me some crap, while I tell it — though (of course) in good fun.
Then I imagine we’ll catch up for a little, rinkside. We’ll get some stretches in. And maybe, if they have time before practice, they’ll even try on my old gloves.
My All-Star gloves.
JOHN SCOTT / CONTRIBUTOR