Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Ballad of John Scott

Well isn’t this a pickle.

You may have heard, even if you’re not a big hockey fan, about the NHL All-Star Game. I mean, they have one every year. It’s a big event – or, at least, the NHL wants you to believe it’s a big event. It’s really a time for players to show off, have some fun and let lose while playing hockey, and we fans get to watch them do it.

And this year promised to be even more special, depending on your definition of the word. Well, maybe any definition would work. That’s because once again, the NHL had a fan vote to select the fan-favourite player to ensure he would be in the All-Star Game. It’s a chance, the NHL believes (there’s that word again), for fans to elect a hometown hero or a star who just might have missed the cut. Last year, the Latvians all got together and elected their only NHL star Zemgus Girgensons, which might be one of the greatest names in hockey. Though he was talented, he was young and playing on a dreadful Buffalo Sabres team. But he still got to play in the ASG.

Perfect, thought the NHL. This is exactly what we believe the fan-vote should be.

This year, however, fans wanted to outdo themselves. A few people from the popular social networking site Reddit decided that it would be hilarious to have 6’8” goon John Scott play in the ASG. Including this year, he has 11 points in 285 games, averaging about 6 minutes a game on the ice. Definitely not an all-star. In fact, Scott is barely considered good enough to be in the NHL. But when the time came for the fan vote, thousands poured in for poor John of the Arizona Coyotes. At first, we took it for what it was – a huge joke. Even Scott urged voters to pick players more deserving on his team, but his pleas were ignored. Even more votes came in for Scott, and soon, it was over, and John Scott was slated to be the captain of the Pacific Division at the ASG.

So now there was a goon attending the ASG. And, with the people speaking very loudly, Scott decided, “Why not?” and confirmed that he would participate in the game. There was even a cash reward for the winning team this year, making it a bigger draw to go. However, the NHL was freaking out. See, they still believed that the ASG was a competitive game to showcase their biggest stars and that this player would make a mockery of the game.

Wait, what?

Didn’t the NHL put in the fan vote in the first place?

It appears that they forgot to take into account the power of stupidity.

The vote allowed anyone to nominate any player to play in the game. Any player. With enough support, anyone could get in, which is exactly what happened. Most fans had stopped paying attention to the game and watched it not for the antics that their favourite stars would perform. Ovechkin wearing a costume, Malkin dressing him up, Price facing shooters backwards. No one was taking these events seriously.

Well, no one except the NHL.

So now they had a dilemma. They asked Scott to decline the invitation, along with his current team, the Coyotes. But Scott had already decided that it would be fun to be on the ice with the best players in the league. He barely got to do that while playing the regular season. And, to top it all off, he would make $90 000 if his team won. For a player on a league minimum salary, that’s a good chunk of change.

But the NHL wasn’t done. The Coyotes took matters into their own hands by orchestrating a trade with Nashville and Montreal, where they ended up sending Scott to the Canadiens. Though a minor trade, it had huge ramifications, since Montreal is in the Metropolitan division in the Eastern Conference, while Arizona is in the Pacific in the West. Then, Montreal promptly sent Scott to the minors. If changing divisions wasn’t enough, the demotion surely was. Scott was no longer allowed to play in the ASG.

This happened all of one day ago. And, as expected, fans and correspondents are furious. Sure, Scott had no place being in a game where the NHL’s best and brightest compete against each other, and note every fan thought it was a good idea he was there, but the NHL’s fan vote allowed him to be there. It was their mistake, and rather than laugh it off and fix it next year, they decided to crush the hopes of a guy just trying to stick a roster spot in the most brutal fashion. Who knows, this might all but end his NHL career for something he had absolutely no control over. Scott never asked to be voted for. He asked people to vote for other players, because he knew his skill level. You know what’s the saddest part? He even made shirts to give his teammates, and they said, “Thanks for believing in me. Love always, The Captain.”

Talk about the nice guy getting screwed.

Now the shirts are being sold to the public and proceeds will go to some charity TBA, so all is not lost, but the NHL really made a bad situation a million times worse. Maybe it’s my fault for getting my hopes up. I was curious to see how he’d fare against the best players in the league. Are they afraid he’d injure someone? He is a specialist in hitting and punching, but why do that at the ASG? No one is going full steam, and the competition level is pretty low (for a professional sport). It’s like going to the rink with a bunch of guys you’ve known forever, along with some other friends of your friends, when a big guy, struggling to skate, comes up and asks to play with you guys. Sure, you’re hesitant at first. No one knows him, and he looks a bit rough (especially with a smile missing several teeth). But you relent when no one seems opposed, and he joins up, Turns out, he’s the nicest guy on the ice and is there just to have fun. He knows he’s no good, but if that was a deterring factor, he wouldn’t have put them on in the first place. You end up having a great time, and at the end you part ways and are left with a unique experience to remember.

I remember playing in the Briercrest rec league on a team that had this one American on it. Though he was from Minnesota (the American hockey capital), he had barely ever used skates. He still wanted to play, though, so he found a bunch of used equipment and suited up. Sure, we were trying to win games and make the playoffs, but no one had issue with him playing. In fact, we cheered him on. We helped him be a better player. And in his last game, he finally got a goal. He made us a better team, I think, because the focus wasn’t on us. It was on the team, and just going out there and doing our best while having fun. Because when it comes down to it, hockey is a game, and games are fun.
But I’m sure many of you can also remember the hyper-competitive guy on the team who ruins the fun for everyone by going way too hard. I played against a few, both on my team and against. They are all about winning, which makes everyone else more stressed and a loss seems that much worse. In Scott’s case, that guy in the NHL (or Gary Bettman, if you’d prefer a name). He wants everything to be taken super seriously to the point where no one has any fun.

But, alas, what’s done is done. I’ve lost a lot of interest in the ASG after this, and I think a lot of fans are likewise disappointed in how the NHL handled this. So shame on you for giving a poor guy hope them crushing it in his face. I hope you learn from this, and remember,

It’s just a game. 

Link to the shirt here: 

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