Here’s the problem with sports movies: it’s very rare that it doesn’t work out. The first Rocky was a rare example of this, and it won Sylvester Stallone a screenwriting Oscar. But the art and arc of the sports film is in the mapping of the journey, the depth of the suffering, the unlikeliness of the rise, and the way the victory is depicted. Sports movies, like a lot of movies, have to trick us into caring. Because the happy ending is coming, and everybody knows.
John Scott was the king of hockey this weekend. It wouldn’t have mattered if Sidney Crosby was in Nashville, or Alexander Ovechkin, or Wayne Gretzky. He scored twice. He was the write-in MVP. He was carried around on the shoulders of far better players. As Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported, Scott’s all-star helmet is headed for the Hall of Fame.
“You can’t write this stuff,” Scott told the members of the media assembled in the city the NHL sold in part to Boots Del Biaggio, the place Jim Balsillie tried to steal back to Canada. The NHL kept Nashville in Nashville, and rewarded it with an all-star game.
But you could write it, if you wanted: you just wouldn’t make it this obviously a happy ending, would you? The aging giant fighter, his wife pregnant with twins, playing in the desert, his career nearly done. A prank all-star voting campaign, the NHL fighting against it, trying to shame him out of going by bringing up his kids and whether they would be proud of him. A suspicious trade to Montreal, where the general manager says “I made a trade that, at the time, I had to make that trade. I have a reason that I can’t really tell you why, but if I could, you would probably understand.”
And then he gets exiled to Newfoundland, as far away from the NHL as you can get without dropping him in the actual ocean. The revulsion towards the trade grows, though, and the league, grudgingly or not, agrees to leave him as the captain of the Pacific Division team. He wouldn’t let them pressure him, he said. He wanted to go.
And then in Nashville, he’s the hero. Not the guys who can skate and shoot and fly, the guys who make the puck dance, the guys who made hockey look easy. John Scott. Commissioner Gary Bettman dodges the question about an NHL employee pressuring Scott. But players love him. Fans love him. He gets a standing ovation at the skills competition, and guffaws uncontrollably when Patrick Kane gets booed.
He scores twice in the all-star game, a guy with five career NHL goals. One of them, he goes top shelf. He hits Kane, and he pretend-fights with Kane. His wife says she had to stop herself from celebrating his second goal, in case she went into labour. His mom’s there. Jeremy Roenick admits in a benchside interview that he was wrong to criticize Scott’s inclusion, and Scott shoots back, “It’s not the first time you’ve been wrong, I’ll just say that.” And he adds, “It’s been fantastic. Every second I’ve been here has just been, like, overwhelming.”
And he still isn’t listed as a candidate for the MVP, and the crowd just rebels. They didn’t chant “LET THEM PLAY” they chanted, “JOHN SCOTT” and “MVP.” And he sweeps the write-in vote, and the commissioner has to hand him a giant novelty cheque for a million dollars, and his bearded buddy Brent Burns helps hoist that six-foot-eight, 270-pound body up on their shoulders, like he’s some kind of colossal Rudy. Which, in a way, he is.
You could write that, if you wanted. Maybe somebody will. But whoever read the script would say, come on. This is a little over the top, right? I mean, I guess his pregnant wife could have gone into labour during the game and given birth at centre ice, but otherwise, maybe tone it down a little.
But it all happened, and everyone but the league was happy as hell for him, and even the NHL had to pretend they loved him, too. In what was probably his final appearance at the NHL level, John Scott saved the all-star game. He saved the league from itself.
This hockey season has been relatively joyless. Not enough scoring, not enough fun. The all-star game usually has too much of one, and forces the other. This didn’t feel forced; it just felt like joy. John Scott, all-star, toast of the underdogs. How about that?
Paul Bissonnette, the former enforcer, skated with Scott a little in Phoenix once, and heard nothing but good things about him. He thought, you could tell Scott just loved being around the guys. Bissonnette watched Sunday’s game, and like just about every hockey player you could find, he loved it, loved it. I asked Bissonnette: What does it mean that Scott, one of the last heavyweights, one of the last true fighters, was the guy who became the king of hockey, for a day?
“I think for a guy that had to get to the level we all dreamed about — doing it with that role takes a toll on you mentally,” said Bissonnette. “I’m happy for him, because it’s probably the first time in a long time he can remember why he fell in love with hockey in the first place. Today was a good day.”
There you go. That’s what it felt like. That’s it.