Sunday, January 31, 2016

In Spite of itself, the NHL Won This Weekend

All Star Games in all sports are exercises in appeasing sponsors, kids and TV executives. No matter what anyone tries to do to spice up these games, people aren't watching because the league's stars are playing each other; only in the past did that matter because you didn't get to see every player and every team on any given night. The Pro Bowl is being played as a I type this, and aside from Allen Robinson being there, I couldn't tell you a single thing about the game. They don't matter.

And somehow this NHL All Star Game mattered in spite of the NHL's attempts to stick their head in the sand and hope the "problem" went away. John Scott went to Nashville, and the class nerd became the Homecoming King. Not only that, but he found a way to publicly shame the big bad bully in town and became a hero in the process.

While all All Star Games are meaningless the NHL's offering seems to have meant the least for the longest time. Wales vs. Campbell meant plenty when you couldn't see Wayne or Mario every night, but then it became East vs. West, North America vs. World, Team A vs. Team B and now a 3 on 3 tournament. Every attempt to jazz up the format has provided a tiny spark but nothing more. All Star weekends are supposed to provide entertainment and they do everything but. Take the NHL's Friday Night Show this year to replace the forgotten Fantasy Draft... did anyone watch it? At least the NBA has the Dunk Contest and MLB has the Home Run Derby- two events the NHL can't match.

But when the real show began, John Scott stole it. From laughing at Patrick Kane getting booed (the why doesn't even matter here), to the look on his face when he scored not once but twice against the Central Division, and every moment in between. For all of the talk of players wanting to skip out on the event and be anywhere but Nashville (I love you Jaromir Jagr but you're not innocent), Scott fully embraced his time to be celebrated and enjoyed a weekend that is meant to be a light alternative to the daily grind of an 82 game regular season. He tried a spin-o-rama in the shootout and nearly scored!

Not only are even "goons" insanely talented athletes, but they are some of the most personable, funny and interesting fellas you could ever want to meet. Paul Bissonnette isn't known because he liked a scrap, he's known because he's a goofball on twitter. John Scott scored a goal last season and immortalized it in a shirt. If more of the NHL's big stars had goofy personalities like Scott's, would the average hockey fan complain about the press the game gets in States? He also got into a "fight" with Patrick Kane, destroyed noted agitator Jeremy Roenick in a mid-game interview and won the MVP despite the NHL's attempts to avoid that.

Some are going to stretch to give the NHL credit for how the weekend turned out. I'm not one of them. The embracing and reception of Scott from the players but more so Nashville and the hockey fans at large came about because the league bungled the situation about as badly as it gets, as Scott illustrated. "The People's Champion" is a wrestling term, and normally Scott gets about as much love as your average wrestling villain, but he turned the tables and like a classic Monday Night Raw, made the big bad man in a suit the villain (maybe then it's no wonder why the hockey and wrestling fanbases cross over so much).

The campaign to vote in a fighter did not pick Zac Rinaldo, an eminently loathable hockey player, or even Shawn Thornton, who has a personality but is still despised by a fair few hockey fans out there. It zeroed in on the lovable, goofy John Scott. He has some incredibly disgusting incidents on his resume, and those can't be erased, but for as much as he may be loathed for those hits, he is now beloved for this weekend in equal measure. We seem to forget in the rush to hate him that he is a man with two daughters and an engineering degree, which can be said about many more of us than "National Hockey League player".

Maybe the 3 on 3 tournament added a little spice to an otherwise bland weekend, but the true zest was provided by Scott, and there will be no re-capturing that ever again. Nine Days couldn't replicate "Story of a Girl" no matter how hard they tried, and nor will the NHL ever have an All Star Weekend like this one in Nashville. The city, the circumstances and the people will never coalesce this way again. The NHL fumbled and bumbled around like a classic naive movie villain and careened ass backwards into some of the best PR they've gotten in years.

The league is going to limit voting even further so players like John Scott are not voted into the All Star Game ever again, which is a shame because this game is ostensibly for the fans. Thankfully, they fought back this weekend and while the NHL eventually relented, they are going to get their way next year, and every year following too.

 Replicating this weekend is impossible, but no doubt the NHL will try to. Even though this is likely John Scott's last NHL involvement ever, he goes out on the best note possible, literally and metaphorically. And for once, an All Star Game was enjoyable, fun to watch and even memorable. PK Jagr and Brent Burns as Chewbacca were great.

But John Scott, All Star MVP, was even better.

Now, who plays him in the inevitable Disney movie about his life...

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