If there's one unwavering truth in sports, it's that fans always love an underdog. A person or team who might not be quickest, the flashiest, or even close to the best, but scraps its way to the top on hard work and sheer will. Maybe it's because as spectators to professional athletes at peak physical condition, we feel closest to the ones whose spot at the highest level was never a guarantee. That's why it didn't take long for Montreal Canadiens forward John Scott to build a loud and loyal following — one that pushed him into the status of NHL All-Star Game MVP over the weekend.
In advance of the game, on Friday Scott published a personal essay titled "A Guy Like Me" on The Players' Tribune detailing his journey to becoming an All-Star, which to this point has included stints on the Blackhawks, Wild, Sabres, Rangers, Sharks, Coyotes, and Canadiens. This year, he was settling in nicely as a member of an over-performing Coyotes team when the GM pulled him aside to inform him he'd been traded to the Canadiens. It was hard on him, to be sure, but also hard on his wife and two young daughters, who idolize him.
Harder still was the revelation in his letter that the NHL had been actively encouraging him to nudge All-Star voting away from himself after it began to pick up steam, eventually going so far as to question his parenting.
“Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”
That's what Scott says an NHL representative called him to say in an effort to squash his fan-driven All-Star campaign. The one he never even asked for and very clearly deserved, despite his humble admission that there are many players in the league with better skills than his own. "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," he wrote. The NHL might be able to dispute his qualifications as an All-Star — however stupid that is in and of itself — but to shame him into suggesting his daughters would be embarrassed is a total disgrace.
Scott's role on the teams he plays for is that of an enforcer. He's 6-foot-8 and weighs roughly 280 pounds, making him an imposing physical presence wherever he goes, let alone on the ice wearing large pads and skates. That's why he's often called upon to push, check, and often fight an opposing team's enforcer to send a message to the other team that he and his teammates aren't to be pushed around themselves. It's the kind of position the NHL has to play a delicate balance with, because fighting is "part of the game," but the league doesn't want to draw extra attention to it.
When Scott scored two goals and overall hung with much speedier players in the new 3-on-3 format of this year's All-Star game, he not only was a sentimental pick to win MVP because of his journey to get there, but also deserved to be considered. The NHL snubbed him anyway, suggesting fans vote via Twitter with three hashtags representing Taylor Hall, Johnny Gaudreau, and Roberto Luongo. Fans wouldn't be silenced, pushing Scott over the top by starting their own hashtag: #VoteJohnScott.
His fellow All-Stars were all too happy when the NHL finally relented and acknowledged his win. "You know what, he truly deserved it," said Jaromir Jagr, the 43-year-old Florida Panthers forward who is a surefire first-ballot hall-of-famer. "That's the funniest thing. He deserved it. The fans voted for him and he deserved it. He played good."
Check out the fans chanting his name. Well-deserved indeed:
Cover image: SPORTSNETCANADA via YouTube