The story of John Scott and the NHL All-Star game

I am not a fan of ice hockey and have only watched a few tiny snippets of games. But I found utterly fascinating this Radiolab episode that recounted an epic struggle between a journeyman hockey player named John Scott and the National Hockey League establishment.

It happened when two hockey journalists, annoyed with the way that the NHL ran things without any seeming concern for what fans liked and wanted, decided as a joke to start a campaign to get Scott, widely viewed as merely a ‘goon’ or ‘enforcer’ whose role was to physically intimidate opposing players and even fight with them, voted to play in the All-Star game, over the elite, skilled players who usually get this honor. (I find it astonishing that there is a sport in which a player’s designated role is to intimidate opponents, even to the extent of physically attacking them.)

John Scott was the professional hockey player that every fan loved to hate. A tough guy. A brawler. A goon. But when an impish pundit named Puck Daddy called on fans to vote for Scott to play alongside the world’s greatest players in the NHL All-Star Game, Scott found himself facing off against fans, commentators, and the powers that be. Was this the realization of Scott’s childhood dreams? Or a nightmarish prank gone too far? Today on Radiolab, a goof on a goon turns into a parable of the agony and the ecstasy of the internet, and democracy in the age of Boaty McBoatface.

It is a story that is funny, gripping , and poignant at the same time. I thought it might make for a good film.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    between a journeyman hockey player named Josh Scott

    Psst -- it’s John Scott, as the selected quote makes clear.


  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    I find it astonishing that there is a sport in which a player’s designated role is to intimidate opponents

    In cricket, they’re called fast bowlers 😉

    Hockey enforcers have to be competent players. Often their job is to protect star players from intimidation by the opposition, but sometimes an entire team can earn a reputation for aggression and intimidation. Like the Philadelphia Flyers in the early 70s, who were known as the Broad Street Bullies.

  3. John Morales says

    I imagine they’re present in most contact sports.

    They are traditional in AFL (Aussie Rules), though the biffing of days of yore has now been significantly toned down due to rules and, ahem, rules enforcement.

  4. mailliw says

    I find it astonishing that there is a sport in which a player’s designated role is to intimidate opponents, even to the extent of physically attacking them.

    The Warren Zevon song Hit Somebody is about such a hockey player.

    “He wasn’t that good with the puck
    His real talent was beating people up
    His heart wasn’t in it
    But the crowd ate it up”

    Here’s the late great Mr Zevon singing it on Dave Letterman.

    Apparently you can get hockey videos that just feature the fights and miss out the rest of the game.

  5. mnb0 says

    “(I find it astonishing that there is a sport in which a player’s designated role is to intimidate opponents”
    Every successful football (soccer) team has one. The Dutch teams from 1974 and 1978 both had Johan Neeskens; the 1988 team Jan Wouters. In 2014 Ron Vlaar managed to intimidate Messi (then one of the four, if not the best player in the world) enough to keep him from scoring. That said referees have become much, much stricter over the years.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 5
    AFL (Aussie Rules)…rules and, ahem, rules enforcement

    When did this happen? I thought that the only rule was no firearms or edged weapons on the pitch?

    Not like the gentile game of hockey where etiquette requires the player to put down his club stick and taking off his gloves before slugging the opponent.

  7. jrkrideau says

    I can remember a childhood friend from the USA telling me that he and his team mates on a middle school football team were being encouraged to help send opposition players off on a stretcher. IIRC he was 12.

  8. pwdm says

    And then threre is the Irish game of Hurling. Unlike hockey thre is no need to put down your stick before a fight. Of course in hockey fighting is built into the rules which is rather strange.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    mnb0 @6: Neeskens was a hard tackler, but I don’t think he was dirty. He was also an excellent player. Nigel de Jong, on the other hand, is definitely in the thug category.

    Holms @9: Clueless twit. Five minutes against players like Graeme Souness, Roy Keane or a myriad of others, and you’d be begging to be substituted.

  10. says

    Rob Grigjanis (#11) -- Yeah, but have you ever heard of football players finishing a game with a broken leg (Bobby Baun) or a ruptured spleen (Peter Forsberg)?

    -- -- -- -- --

    2016 wasn’t the only time the NHL all star game became farcical. The 1983 all star game was a near disaster. I didn’t listen to the podcast, so I don’t know if it was mentioned.

    In the 1980s, the all star teams were required to have one player from each of the (then) twenty one teams. Some players weren’t necessarily the best in the league, but generally every team had a few top level players. Vancouver had “King” Richard Brodeur, who had carried the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1982. He made the all star team on merit.

    In those days, all star teams only had two goaltenders, and they switched in the middle of the second period. Today, they have three and play one period each. If a goaltender were injured now, the NHL might have the better one play two periods.

    Three days before the 1983 all star game, Brodeur was injured. A replacement Canuck player and a goaltender were needed, so Vancouver’s backup goaltender John Garrett was sent instead. Garrett was not all-star material. Many questioned this decision, suggesting different goaltenders and a different Canuck player, but nothing was changed.

    As with Scott, Garrett played the game of his life, allowing one goal on roughly twenty shots during thirty minutes of play. He was voted the game’s MVP…until Wayne Gretzky scored three goals in the third period (four in total), two of them in the last five minutes. A re-vote was taken (the only time this happened) and Gretzky was named MVP.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    Intransitive @12: I’m sure there are lots of similar stories in soccer, but the one I remember is Bert Trautmann, goalie for Manchester City, playing the last 15 minutes of the 1956 FA Cup final with a broken neck.

    I remember Baun. He was a stalwart defenceman for the Leafs, who I followed after my family moved to Canada, until I got sick of the odious owner Harold Ballard

  12. John Morales says

    The topic is deliberate targeting of the opposing team’s players as a role within a team, not mere injuries incurred during the course of the game.

    (Also, people don’t walk or run on a broken leg. Maybe if there’s a small crack in the bone or something, but not if it’s actually broken)

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @15: Yes, the topic was not strictly adhered to. That’s how conversations often go.

    A hairline fracture is still a fracture, and can be very painful. Do you have any personal experience of this?

  14. John Morales says

    Rob, yeah, I’ve had cracked bones. Wrist and ribs (bike accident, karate mishap).
    Also a broken arm, which became unusable due to the actual break.

    Point being, cracked ain’t broken.

    And when you link to video of someone who is moving quite freely, backwards and forwards, running around and celebrating after a kick, I don’t for one moment believe their leg is broken.

    So, anyway: it’s surprising to me Mano is surprised that, in professional team contact sports, certain players are tasked to “take out” an opposing team’s other players. It’s just another strategy to achieve wins, though one best used sparingly.

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    John, nobody was picturing people skating or running around on bones that were actually snapped into two or more pieces. But thank you for your personal take on the differences between break, fracture and crack. I’m sure someone, somewhere, might actually feel that they benefited from your wisdom.

  16. Holms says

    #11 Rob
    Sigh. I mention soccer in the present tense, and you go back 30+ years to find counterexamples. Which only goes to show that the soccer of the present day is not the game of the 80s.

  17. Holms says

    Oh and as for break vs. fracture… broken bones is a term of vernacular english. In medical jargon, Any newly introduced discontinuity of bone is a fracture, even if there is no separation. You are quibbling over different types of fracture, and which are the ones are properly termed ‘broken bones’.

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