The Least Likely Hockey All-Star

If you don’t know anything at all about ice hockey, you probably still have heard the name Wayne Gretzky. He’s almost certainly the greatest player of all time — during his 20-year career, Gretzky scored 894 goals and had 1.963 assists, both National Hockey League (NHL) records. He played in 18 All-Star Games and took home the All-Star Game MVP trophy three times. LIke most All-Stars, he was one of the best players on the ice during his time.

And then there was John Scott.

Scott played for eight seasons, appearing in a total of 286 games, which is less than half of the total games his teams played during his career. He was known as an “enforcer,” a player who isn’t on the ice to score or pass or anything like that, but rather beat up on opponents who are excessively aggressive or engaged in foul play. At 6’8″, he was good at that role, but still saw limited playing time, averaging just over seven minutes of ice time per game played. (Regulation games run for 60 minutes.) He scored a total of five goals and earned six assists over the course of his career.  He — well, he wasn’t a star. 

And yet, Scott was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game. And won the game’s MVP award.

Typically, All-Star honors are reserved for stars, hence the name of the game. Scott was anything but. But to fans, that didn’t matter. The NHL, in an effort to bring some more fun and attention to the All-Star Game during the 2015-2016, changed the format. As Wikipedia’s editors explain, “Instead of one game featuring two teams, there are four All-Star teams based on the league’s four divisions, competing in a single-elimination tournament. The format of all three games in the tournament is three-on-three, with 10-minute halves each. If a tie remains after 20 minutes, then it directly goes to a three-round shootout plus extra rounds as needed to determine the winner; there is no standard overtime. The winners of the two semifinal games then meet in an All-Star Game Final.” Fans weren’t thrilled by the change and they came up with a way to make their voice heard. Fans were able to vote for the captain of each of the four teams, and the NHL website shared the current vote totals throughout the voting period. That was all the global fans of hockey fans needed. A few started voted for Scott to be his conference’s captain, others caught on to the ruse, and through the power of social media, Scott quickly became the leading vote-getter. 

The NHL wasn’t a fan of this fan-driven protest, so they asked Scott to help put an end to it. He agreed. He explained why in an essay in The Players’ Tribune:

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 [Arizona] 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.

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.

It didn’t work. When voting closed during the first week of January 2016, Scott was still at the top of his division’s list. He was going to the All-Star Game — and the league wasn’t happy about it. They asked him to decline the honor, but Scott did not appreciate the league’s ambivalence about how the whole ordeal had impacted him and his family. He decided to give the fans what they wanted and lace up for the 3-on-3 tournament. 

On January 15, 2016, the Arizona Coyotes traded him to the Montreal Canadiens, who in turn immediately sent him to their minor league affiliate at the time, the St. John’s IceCaps. Instead of going to Nashville for the All-Star Game, Scott was going to Newfoundland for a weird equivalent of hockey purgatory. The league figured by making Scott a minor leaguer,  the whole question would be moot; a guy who isn’t currently playing in the NHL can’t be an NHL All-Star, right? 

Wrong. The rules didn’t preclude Scott from participating in the game after all. He ended up playing in the 3-on-3 tournament, representing the Pacific division — and leading them to victory, scoring two goals in his team’s two games. As SB Nation reported, “the NHL named three All-Star MVP finalists and Scott was not one of them. But, part of the award was a fan vote on Twitter and it turned into a John Scott runaway.” A virtually unknown player had just reached been named the most valuable player of All-Star tournament. 

That would be the second-to-last NHL game Scott would ever play. The Canadiens called him up for one game and he retired at the end of the season. He’ll be the last player of his caliber to play in an NHL All-Star Game: before the 2016-2017 team, the league changed the rules to disallow this sort of thing from happening again.

Bonus fact: As Wayne Gretzky holds the NHL record for both career goals and career assists (as noted above), his 2,857 total points — that is, goals plus assists — is also an NHL record. And it’s probably unbreakable. Jaromír Jágr is second place on that list, with 1,921 points, which is less than Gretzky’s 1,963 career assists. In other words, if Gretzky hadn’t scored a single goal, he’d still hold the points record.

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