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John Scott Transcends Jokes, NHL's Resistance And Is Named MVP Of All-Star Game

John Scott celebrates scoring a goal in a 3-on-3 tournament at the All-Star game Sunday, along with Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks.
Bruce Bennett
Getty Images
John Scott celebrates scoring a goal in a 3-on-3 tournament at the All-Star game Sunday, along with Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks.

When the NHL's All-Star extravaganza began, John Scott was worried about whether his teammates would accept him, a journeyman enforcer who was voted in by the fans and is now on an AHL team. When it ended, he worried the NHL's elite might drop him when they lifted him onto their shoulders.

"I was nervous, scared," Scott said. "I am not a very light guy — I'm almost 275 pounds, when I'm soaking wet I'm about 300 pounds. It was nerve-wracking. ... I thought they were going to drop me on my head."

To take his mind off that worry, Scott, 33, could listen to the fans cheering for him and chanting "MVP!" And for the record, his teammates didn't keep him in the air for very long.

To put it floridly, the Internet ached with the desire for Scott to be named MVP of the NHL's All-Star Game Sunday night. Stars like Henrik Lundqvist chimed in; even the official Twitter accounts of many NHL teams took up the call. And it was finally requited: Scott, whose All-Star trip had once been blocked, scored two goals to help the Pacific team win the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament (and a $1 million prize).

The first of those goals set off a standing ovation in Nashville, Tenn., where fans had cheered for Scott all weekend.

Through a sequence of events that "unlikely" only begins to describe, the 6-foot-8-inch Scott scored on a breakaway, engaged in a mock brawl and was lifted onto his teammates' shoulders Sunday night as they celebrated the people's champ.

"It's just another one on the list of stuff I cannot believe is happening," Scott said after the game. "I never in a million years would have believed that I was in an All-Star Game, and have the fans get behind me like that. To score two goals in the game is just ... you can't put it into words. You can't write this stuff. It's unbelievable how it happened."

It was the fans who voted Scott onto the All-Star team; they also voted him the game's MVP, even though he wasn't on the NHL's ballot.

Through it all, Scott showed himself to have character and humor that big-time sports leagues dream about: Sunday night, he was already applauding the All-Star MVP before he realized his name had been called; at one point, he left the ice to give a (very large) hug to Chris Sutter, the son of his All-Star squad's coach, Darryl.

For weeks, Scott's story played out like a surreal remake of Rollerball: an athlete's fortitude and his fans' intensity are tested but ultimately prevail, despite intricate mechanisms that seem intent on subverting them.

Scott's supporters often mention his likability, his regular-guy status and his commitment to his family — he has two daughters who are often seen at his games, and his wife, Danielle, is nine months pregnant with twins. Their devotion deepened further two weeks ago, when Scott and his family were forced to move from Phoenix to Newfoundland, the result of a trade and assignment to the minors that many saw as a ploy to keep him out of the All-Star Game after he refused to remove himself from consideration.

Both Danielle and John Scott have said they were surprised and excited by the campaign to get him into the All-Star Game and that they're happy and relieved he was finally deemed eligible to play.

"We've just been so overwhelmed by so much support," Danielle Scott said after Sunday night's game. She added, "I'm going to tear up, even talking about it. I'm so pregnant and emotional."

At the All-Star weekend's skills competition, Scott took the ice alongside the NHL's top players, including his fellow captains such as Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Kane (Alex Ovechkin did not attend). While the other players wore their home team's jersey, Scott dressed in a black All-Star jersey — after the NHL reportedly vetoed his plan to wear the one from his current team, the AHL's Saint John's IceCaps.

John Scott talks with his wife, Danielle, after the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, as their kids amuse themselves.
Bruce Bennett / Getty Images
Getty Images
John Scott talks with his wife, Danielle, after the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, as their kids amuse themselves.

His All-Star candidacy may have started as a joke, a way for fans to poke fun at the NHL and start a debate about who belongs in the league's showcase game. But it grew more serious when Scott was traded, and deepened further when he published an essay last Thursday in which he said the NHL had tried to persuade him not to go to the All-Star game in Nashville, telling him, "This is not a game for you, John."

The essay was titled "A Guy Like Me." In it, Scott explained how he used hockey to help him get a degree in engineering at Michigan Tech, on the assumption that he had no future in the sport. He explained how hard he had worked to have a career, and to be an NHL player. Here's an excerpt:

"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."

His daughters have his jerseys from all five teams he has played for, Scott wrote. Sunday night in Nashville, the girls were once again with him on the ice, wearing small versions of his jersey. On the back it read, simply, "Daddy."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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