It’s the story you’ve read about and heard about and watched time and again over the past several days. It’s the one that simply won’t go away, because it keeps finding new, increasingly spectacular ways to top itself and further warm our hearts.
John Scott helped the NHL take a rotten batch of lemons and churn it into lemonade, saving the tastiest batch for Sunday’s 3-on-3 All-Star Game tournament. At 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds, he looks nothing like pint-sized Notre Dame football hero Rudy Ruettiger, but Scott essentially became Rudy for a day. Scott accomplished the things he never was supposed to. He turned himself from a laughing stock into a hero. And he literally got carried around on teammates’ shoulders, a la Ruettiger. The NHL could not have wished a better, more emotionally satisfying result into existence.
Scott, the Pacific Division captain, did not “play well for John Scott.” He played well, period, scoring on his first shift and scoring again on a beautiful breakaway goal.
“I knew Matt Duchene was behind me, so I knew he was coming for me, and I tried to shield it, protect it a little bit,” Scott said. “And then I saw Devan Dubnyk came out, so I picked a corner and went for it. Luckily it went in.”
Slowly but surely on Sunday, the sideshow that was supposedly going to taint the All-Star Game swelled into the most meaningful version of the event in years. The Nashville crowd got rowdier and rowdier, swelling into a cartoonish mob, demanding respect for its anointed people’s champ. The fans screamed every time Scott touched the puck. They went bananas when he hit Patrick Kane for real and the two pantomimed a fight. The fans chanted Scott’s name between shifts, begging him to take the ice again. They raged when the scoreboard offered only Roberto Luongo, Johnny Gaudreau and Taylor Hall as options for the MVP vote. The experience transcended the arena, and the NHL’s worldwide fans forced John Scott into the running as a write-in vote, just as they stuffed ballot boxes to make him an all-star participant in the first place. This happens in movies or wrestling matches or urban myths. This doesn’t happen in real life. And yet, somehow, it did.
“I never in a million years would’ve believed I would be in an All-Star Game and have the fans get behind me like that,” Scott said. “And to score two goals in a game, you can’t put it into words. You can’t write this stuff. It’s unbelievable how it happened.”
Scott called Sunday’s victory and MVP award the greatest moment of his hockey career, and he’s convinced he’s in the middle of the best week of his life, with his wife Danielle due to give birth to twins any day now. He said pretty much every player went out of his way to tell him they were happy he was in Nashville.
“It’s the biggest story,” Luongo said. “It was made into a negative thing for a while, but all in all, it drew attention to the NHL All-Star Game, and attention is what the NHL wants. So it’s a good thing to have him here, he did well, he played well, he deserved everything he got, and we’re all happy for him.”
Perhaps most interesting was how happy NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was for Scott. Bettman was obviously a lightning rod for criticism after Scott’s Players’ Tribune article slammed the NHL’s handling of him. But when Scott spoke about the piece after the game Sunday, he focused not on attacking the NHL but instead on his effort to change his image. For him, the article was first and foremost about redefining his label of being a goon who had no skill. He leaves Nashville on good terms with the NHL. Especially after he spoke with Bettman in the moments following the game.
“He said, ‘I’m proud of you,’ ” Scott said. “He said, ‘That was quite the story, quite the game and have fun with it.’ He said, ‘I’m just happy you’re here.’ It was nice to hear. I have no ill will toward him or anybody. It was standup of them to let me come and play in this. I know they didn’t really have to.”
The improbable and rapid reconciliation cemented the 2016 weekend as arguably the most memorable all-star experience in league history. The crazy thing was that the format, which changed to 3-on-3, was just gravy, a cherry on top, even though it was quite a success. Yes, the action slowed down in the final, a 1-0 clunker as the players’ legs filled with lactic acid. But for the most part, we saw competitive hockey with lots of razzle dazzle, especially from silky-handed Gaudreau. It was something different and, if the players have any say, it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future in All-Star Games.
“I thought it was better for sure, a lot more open space, a lot more intensity as far as guys trying when they had the puck,” Kane said. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction. We wanted to come out and make sure we were a little more intense than last year, and it was a job well done by the players.”
The likes of Tyler Seguin, Claude Giroux and Dustin Byfuglien echoed Kane’s sentiment. They all felt reinvigorated by the format. And it’s telling when Luongo, a 36-year-old veteran of five All-Star Games, calls this year’s the most fun he’s ever had.
He sure wasn’t alone. The stories coming out of Nashville this weekend may seem like an endless river of sappy sentimentality, but they simply represent what really happened. We’ll talk about the NHL’s own Music City Miracle for years to come.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin