By John Wawrow
AP Hockey Writer
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — There were still some nine minutes remaining in the third period when the excited mob of youngsters began gathering outside the St. John’s IceCaps locker-room door.
John Scott had just skated off after picking up a 10-minute misconduct for playing a minor role in a scuffle, and the antsy kids were tripping over themselves in hopes to catch a glimpse of the NHL’s unlikeliest All-Star Game MVP.
“I think I saw him!” someone gasped, peering through the dimly lit maze of iron supports beneath the dusty stands of Syracuse’s War Memorial Arena before a security person shooed them away. The scene was no different the night before, when extra security personnel were called in for crowd control.
This is what Scott’s life has become in the aftermath of the hand-wringing controversy over whether the bit-playing journeyman enforcer was worthy of being deemed an all-star after being voted in by fans. The 6-foot-8 gentle giant instead emerged as an overnight sensation, earning admiration from fans and fellow players alike for standing his ground in the face of doubters and critics.
“It’s almost like a movie,” a smiling Scott said, reflecting back on the past two months. “Honestly, no one could ever script this would happen.”
And yet, there is a movie in the works, which is also something Scott could never have envisioned.
“I’m a super lucky guy with all that’s happened,” he said.
If that sounds odd, it should: One moment in January, Scott was trying on his personalized pair of All-Star gloves in Arizona. The next, the Coyotes traded Scott to Montreal, where he was immediately shipped to the American Hockey League’s remotest outpost in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. That’s 1,000 miles from Montreal and more than, 3,000 from Phoenix.
A few weeks later, the 33-year-old Scott was being hoisted on his teammates’ shoulders amid fans chanting “M-V-P!” after he captained the NHL’s Pacific Division team to an all-star title in Nashville, Tennessee.
All of this began as the most difficult time in Scott’s career, in which the defining moment occurred when he said an NHL official questioned whether his daughters would be proud of him playing in the game. And it ended with Scott winning over everyone’s hearts, because, after all, who doesn’t love an underdog story?
“I get letters from people, and it really touches you, and sometimes it chokes me up,” Scott said. “It’s like (they write): ‘I watched you in the All-Star game and you were an inspiration, and I just want to thank you for turning my life around.’”
Scott hasn’t missed a beat in St. John’s, a quaint provincial capital that’s as close to Ireland as it is to Minnesota, where Scott broke into the NHL with the Wild in 2008-09
“As soon as I got there, everybody was super friendly,” he said. “I walk down the street and it’s, ‘Hey, John. Congrats. Hey, we’ll meet you for a beer later.’ It’s so fun. I love that city.”
And yes, Scott has been, as the locals put it, “screeched in.”
It’s a long-held rite of passage for newcomers to kiss a fish (usually a cod), drink a shot of rum (known as screech) and recite a saying that ends with “long may your big jib draw,” which translates to: “May your sails always catch wind.”
He’s also quickly adapted to his new team.
The big forward, who has two goals and two assists in 21 games through last weekend, plays a regular shift, including a role on the power play. He can also double as a defenseman, as happened Sunday when St. John’s Brett Lernout was ejected in the first period.
“It’s not an easy situation for him, but he’s making the most of it,” IceCaps coach Sylvain Lefebvre said. “He’s a big brother, as he should be in the locker room. And the guys enjoy being around him. That’s a big tribute to him.”
Scott is a physical player, but doesn’t go out of his way to get into a fight. He won’t, however, hesitate to get in the middle of scuffles if it means protecting a teammate.
The most amusing moment on Sunday came shortly before he picked up his 10-minute major. With a scuffle erupting next to him, Scott skated over and matched up with the only Syracuse player without a partner. It happened to be 5-foot-9 defenseman Matt Taormina.
At one point, Taormina looked up and made a joke, to which Scott responded by hugging him. Then, Taormina reached up and playfully gave Scott a face wash with his glove, which prompted a smile from Scott, and cheer from the crowd.
“Everybody wants me to be this bad guy,” Scott said. “It’s like, ‘There’s John, this mean guy. He’s like a goon. He’s not smart.’ And that’s just not who I am. I’m a nice guy.”
Scott has never pretended to be anything more than being a role player. He’s earned a professional paycheck because he poses a big, intimidating on-ice presence. He has just five goals and 11 points to go along with 542 penalty minutes in 285 NHL games.
What many don’t know about him is that he earned an engineering degree at Michigan Tech, and many of his current and former teammates regard him to be one of the game’s funniest characters.
The St. John’s road trip through central New York allowed Scott to reunite with his wife, Danielle, who made the drive from Michigan with their kids, including newborn twins, Sofia and Estelle. She was amazed to see how fans are drawn to her husband.
“We were down at breakfast, and some guy was talking to him,” she said. “I was like, ‘Was that one of your coaches?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s just everybody recognizes me where ever I go.’”
“It’s just funny,” she added. “What ended up being one of our hardest moments turns into the greatest beyond what we ever could have expected.”
Though he’d love to continue playing, Scott isn’t sure what comes next once his contract expires after this season.
At the very least, he will always be known as an NHL All-Star.
“Yeah, an MVP All-Star,” he said, correcting someone.
And there’s the SUV he was awarded for it, and his share of $1 million prize that went with being on the winning team.
“I haven’t gotten it yet,” Scott said, referring to the money.
“That’s actually a good question. I’ve got to follow up with them on that one,” he added, with a carefree shrug before ducking back into the locker room.
With the game over, a crowd once again gathered outside the IceCaps’ door. Still in his T-shirt and shorts, Scott made a quick detour by heading into the now-empty stands. Using his long legs, he climbed over row after row of seats to be with his family.
They eventually ducked into a hallway, where Scott’s two oldest daughters, dressed in IceCaps jerseys, danced around, tightly holding their proud and happy father’s hands.
“You know what, even if the whole thing didn’t go down the way it did, I’m not going to complain,” Scott said. “I was super lucky before all this stuff. But after this, it’s like, holy. I must have six or seven angels looking out for me. I’m so blessed.”