The Montreal Gazette had a review copy of the autobiography of John Scott, star of the 2016 NHL All-Star Game. The sports editor offered it to me, and I read it during the week. Here are my thoughts on it, and excerpts from my favourite parts of it.
For the first 170 of its 215 pages, John Scott’s autobiography is pretty run-of-the-mill. But then, that’s kind of the point.
If you don’t remember the story that led to this guy becoming famous, he retells it as of Page 171. Spurred by a joke that was eventually traced to a suggestion in a podcast, fans began voting en masse for Scott, then a journeyman enforcer playing for the Arizona Coyotes, to go to the National Hockey League All-Star Game. Not because he was a big star with a lot of talent, but because he wasn’t. Fans had earlier tried and failed with something like this with the Vancouver Canucks’ Rory Fitzpatrick. (And for the 2015 game, a more positive-minded campaign from Latvia sent Zemgus Girgensons to the top of the all-star ballot.) But this time, the online trolls were successful in voting Scott in as the team captain for the Pacific Division at the 2016 all-star game.
It’s largely what happened after that announcement that made him a story, and turned him from an also-ran NHL nobody into an unlikely hero. The team, and the league, tried to convince him to decline the invitation. He was then traded to the Montreal Canadiens in a deal that made little sense, and Scott was immediately sent to the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin explained that he was forced to take Scott in the deal, without giving details.
Despite everything, Scott went to the game, where he became a media star and fan favourite. He scored two goals in the semifinal and was a write-in winner as MVP of the event, with the prize being a new car.
Scott played only a single meaningless NHL game with the Canadiens after that, the team having already been eliminated from playoff contention. After the 2015-16 season, he retired from professional hockey.
Scott’s take on the all-star game, and some entertaining highlights from his career (including missing his first NHL game because he didn’t have his passport) are already public thanks to two pieces in the Players Tribune: One at the time of the all-star game and another from December when he announced his retirement. That’s all in the book as well, along with information about how he grew up, the course of his career and, because there are so few of them, descriptions of all five of his NHL goals.
But since the book is told chronologically, it’s a long wait until you get to the part that made him famous. Scott begins with his childhood, playing hockey on a backyard rink in St. Catharines, Ont. He talks about going to Michigan Tech University and playing college hockey there, meeting his wife there, signing a professional contract and playing for what would become seven NHL teams.
Co-authored by Sports Illustrated’s Brian Cazeneuve, the book is very matter-of-fact about the events of Scott’s life, his feelings and opinions. You won’t see adjective-laden scene-setting descriptions. Rather, it’s short and simple sentences relating the things that happened. Like you’d expect from a guy whose university education was in engineering. But the style leads to some passages being kind of boring, when he goes off on a tangent that makes you wonder what the point is.
I was fascinated by the John Scott story when it happened. About a regular guy being bullied by people he’d never met, and turning into a superstar just by being a decent person. About someone who, when people talk about the most talented players faking injuries in order to get out of the all-star game, was just so excited for the chance to go.
But at the same time, Scott would never have been at the all-star game if not for the heartless lulz of NHL fans. The only way to prevent another case like this is to change the rule to prevent someone like him from getting to the game in the first place. Maybe you can make the argument that Scott represents a type of player that’s necessary for the game, or you can accept that he’s a Cinderella story and not think about it too much. But the people who are happy with what happened to him are also the ones who thought he shouldn’t have been invited, myself included.
Scott is far from perfect. He’s a goon who was suspended more than once by the NHL, and he has a DUI on his criminal record (something he called the worst mistake of his life). But he’s a smart guy, and his heart seems to be in the right place, so you can’t help but root for the guy.
We don’t learn much more than we already did about the all-star game and leadup to it. Scott won’t say which NHL official brought up his daughters to try to convince him not to go. But we get more detail of the conversation, which really makes the league look bad. And we get some indication of the petty things the NHL tried to dictate, like the jersey he wore and even changing the skills competition he would play in.
But the book ends on a positive note, about how great the experience was, about his brief time with the Canadiens and about the early plans to maybe make a movie out of his experience.
Even though I already know what the plot would be, it’s a movie I’d like to see.