December 19, 2013

From NYHJ: The other side of Sabres forward John Scott

By Dave Ricci

Ostracized and suspended after his hit on Bruins winger Loui Eriksson, Sabres enforcer John Scott tries to help the team get back on track. (Getty Images)

BUFFALO — They were exactly the right words at exactly the right time for John Scott.

The 6-foot-8, 259-pound, bruising winger for the Buffalo Sabres had just finished serving his seven-game suspension for his Oct. 23 hit on Boston’s Loui Eriksson, and the Sabres were on course for a head-on collision with longtime rival Toronto on Nov. 15.

Fans and media were expecting Scott, who was at the center of a preseason brawl with the Leafs that featured Phil Kessel’s multiple, two-handed stick smashes at Scott’s legs, to go looking for a rematch with whichever Maple Leafs player chose to step up.

Then newly re-hired head coach Ted Nolan calmly took Scott aside and said this: “I know you can fight. I want to see more from you as a hockey player.”

It was the vote of confidence John Scott had been waiting to hear for a long, long time.

“I think when a new coach comes in, your first thought is to go out there and fight and show him what you’ve got,” Scott said. “But it’s nice to have him come in and say, ‘Just play hockey and do your thing. I know you’re a good player, so just go out there and show that.’

“It was good to hear. Most coaches wouldn’t do that. They just pigeon-hole you into a (fighting role) and say you’re just going to play three minutes and you’re going to fight.”

Scott said that Nolan coming in with a new voice and giving everybody a fresh slate makes it exciting for everyone, even as the team was suffering through a 5-19-1 season in late November, one that already saw the dismissal of GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston.

Signed by the Sabres as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2012, Scott came to the Blue and Gold with a reputation of being one the game’s premier fighters, a blue-collar guy who will unselfishly do the most thankless jobs in the game.

Scott understands that all players are subject to criticism at any given time. That comes with the job. But he also feels that somewhere along the way, fans have gotten the wrong idea of who he is as a player and, more importantly, as a person.

Especially after his hit on Eriksson, a center-ice flattening that the Bruins winger didn’t see coming after dumping a puck into the zone.

While the objective viewer might say it was simply a case of a bigger, stronger player getting the better of a smaller guy, that didn’t stop news outlets and hockey analysts all over North America from ripping into Scott as if his sole mission was to injure Eriksson.

“It stings a little bit but it kind of fires you up a little bit more because you want to go out and prove them wrong,” Scott said, with a determined tone in his voice. “I’m dying to go out there and score a couple goals and shove it up some people’s backsides. Just stick it in their faces.”

Sabres captain Steve Ott, one of the most vocal players in the league, is always quick to defend a teammate. He will tell you straight out that Scott is a person of great character who has nothing but respect for the game and his opponents, that the goon label is untrue, unfair and a result of members of the media who created a monster without taking time to get to know Scott as a person.

“That’s the downside of what media does to people,” Ott said. “He’s a great human being; he’s a great teammate and he goes out there and works honestly. Yeah, he’s physical and, yeah, he’s put in a role to make the NHL. Every single naysayer in life, including media, would change positions with him to get that opportunity to play in the NHL.”

“After this last (wave) I just literally tuned everybody out,” Scott said. “You can’t really take that beating every day. It sucks. Especially from people who … they don’t know you; they’re not around you. They see you for one game.”

Knowing that Ott and Eriksson were teammates in Dallas, Scott reached out to Ott for Eriksson’s cell number in an effort to apologize.

“I was the guy (John) called personally right after the game, knowing that I played with Loui for six or seven years,” Ott said. “So, obviously, right away I had a talk with him and he was sick to his stomach about the whole thing, the process and more or less what the media was portraying him as.

“You know what he is — a stand-up, hard hockey player and a great teammate to have, and that’s the hard thing. People like to (create) their own perceptions because of what he does for a living. He does it honestly and respectfully.”

“I’ve been playing for a long time now and I’ve never wanted to hurt anybody or go out there and try to injure somebody,” Scott said. “It really struck a chord in me with Loui when I heard he was injured. It’s just something I wanted to make right and tell him, ‘Listen, I messed up. I didn’t want to hurt you. I hope you’re OK and hope you can accept my apology.’ It’s one of those things where you never want to see it happen.”

Scott also has a much better eye for the game than most give him credit for. Several weeks ago, after a morning skate, Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder walked into the locker room smiling, saying how Scott noticed that Tallinder’s shot was off that day. Tallinder, without realizing it, had an imbalance in his form while shooting. A slight tweak based on Scott suggestion and Tallinder’s shots were flying harder and more pinpoint.

“The media puts him out there like he is an animal,” Tallinder said. “He’s a great human being and a great guy. He has the toughest job in the league. He doesn’t play a lot; if he needs to re-amp the team, he needs to go out and fight, and that’s not easy.”

Never planning on making it to the NHL, Scott had his backup plan in place before he ever stepped into a pro rink.

Scott spent four years at Michigan Tech, where he played hockey and pursued a degree in engineering. But at the time, he was unable to complete the courseload to attain his degree.

It was his wife, Danielle, who urged him to complete his studies at the University of Minnesota.

“I went to school with her and she really pushed me to go back,” Scott said. “She said hockey is good, but it’s not going to last forever. She’s the one who really pushed me, and not forced me, but urged me to go back to school. And I’m glad she did that.”

Learning something new never hurt anybody.