NASHVILLE, TENN. • The first NHL All-Star Game using a 3-on-3 format was as popular as expected, but it was the unexpected tale of an NHL enforcer that made it a wildly popular weekend.
John Scott, who won an Internet fan vote to play in the game and a behind-the-scenes battle with the league to keep his spot in the lineup, scored two goals, delivered the only hit of the day and dropped the gloves to win over the sellout crowd of 17,006 at Bridgestone Arena. They were chanting “MVP” in the final minutes of the championship game, and despite not being among the original three candidates, Scott was named the most valuable player as a “write-in” after captaining the Pacific Division to a 1-0 win over the Atlantic.
“You can’t write this stuff,” said Scott, who wasn’t even wearing a team logo on his sweater during the NHL Skills Competition on Saturday because he has no NHL team.
The 33-year-old was voted onto the Pacific Division roster as a member of the Arizona Coyotes, but when he chose not to follow along with the NHL’s suggestion to back out of the game, he was suddenly traded to the Montreal Canadiens and assigned to their American Hockey League affiliate.
The snowballing situation jolted the Scott family, especially his wife, Danielle, who is nine months pregnant with twins. She claimed she nearly delivered Sunday in Nashville, and while she didn’t, her husband did. In a game that featured the sport’s greatest stars, the 6-foot-8 Scott, with five goals in 285 career NHL games, stood out above them all.
“You hate to lose, but if I ever wanted to lose, ever, I’m glad I lost today,” said Florida forward Jaromir Jagr, whose Atlantic squad fell in the final.
There were three 20-minute games Sunday, which were divided into two 10-minute periods. The Atlantic Division edged the Metropolitan Division 4-3 in the first game, followed by the Pacific’s 9-6 win over the Central, which featured the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko.
Scott scored the Pacific team’s first goal, much to the delight of the fans, who erupted when he mimicked the arm-pumping goal celebration of Montreal’s P.K. Subban.
The Pacific led 3-2 when Scott dumped friend and former Chicago teammate Patrick Kane in the neutral zone. Kane “kind of cut into me and I knew I was going to hit him, so I finished it off,” Scott explained.
That led to a breakaway for Scott, whose shot was stopped. The puck went back the other way and Kane scored for a 3-3 tie, after which the NHL’s leading scorer playfully dropped the gloves with Scott, giving up nine inches and about 100 pounds.
“He came right after me after he scored,” Scott said. “He was like, ‘Let’s go.’ It was fun.”
The fun for Scott continued, as he added his second goal of the game on a breakaway to give the Pacific a 5-3 lead in the second period.
“I jumped up when he scored his second goal and said, ‘Oh my God, I’d better stop!” Danielle told reporters.
The Pacific led 7-3 before Tarasenko helped pull the Central to within 7-5 in the second period, posting two assists 13 seconds apart.
Tarasenko nearly had a third assist, setting up Dallas’ Tyler Seguin, but with a chance to cut the deficit to one goal, Seguin was denied as Anaheim goalie John Gibson came up with a big save. Eight seconds later, the Pacific stretched its lead to 8-5.
“If we score, it’s 7-6 and maybe it’s a different game,” said Tarasenko, who had two shots on goal in 6 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time. “It was a great save.”
Despite being on the losing end, Tarasenko enjoyed the 3-on-3 format.
“It was fun, especially for fans, a more competitive game, nobody wanted to lose,” he said. “A little bit long day, but it was pretty fun to be here, a pretty good experience.”
Tarasenko also enjoyed watching Scott’s story unfold.
“I think he was one of the best players on the ice, that’s not kidding,” Tarasenko said. “He’s a really good person. It was really nice to be with him.”
Scott’s team advanced to face the Atlantic in the final, where Anaheim’s Corey Perry scored the game’s lone goal.
During the final period, there was an announcement that fans could cast their vote for the game’s MVP for one of three options: Florida’s Roberto Luongo, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau or Edmonton’s Taylor Hall.
Fans booed the choices, chanting for Scott, who was already sizing up the vehicle that’s awarded to the winner.
“I was sitting next to Johnny and Taylor, and I said, ‘You guys better give me that van, I need it,’” Scott quipped.
The fans were heard, as Scott was named MVP, prompting teammates to quickly hoist him on their shoulders.
“I was nervous,” he said. “I’m not a light guy — I’m almost 300 pounds soaking wet.”
Scott then posed with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman with the $1 million check that went to the winners.
“He said, ‘I’m proud of you,’” Scott said. “‘That was quite the story, quite the game. We’re just happy you’re here.’”
After penning his own article earlier this week on how the mishandled situation unfolded from his perspective, Scott wrote the final chapter Sunday.