John Scott Q&A: Dad chaos, Kessel fight, happiness, and sneaking beer

Former NHL player John Scott talks about his retirement from the NHL, the night before the all-star game, having a rule named after him and going back to play in Newfoundland after being the talk of the NHL.

The largest man in a crowded room, 6-foot-8 John Scott moves at ease through a scene peppered with hockey legends and Hall of Famers—established greats like Dale Hawerchuk, Wendel Clark and Darryl Sittler.

They are all here, mingling with average-Joe hockey fans in a Toronto ballroom, to raise money for the Scotiabank Pro-Am for Alzheimer’s in support of Baycrest, an event that begins with amateur teams publicly drafting an NHL alumnus to play on their team for a weekend.

Scott, 34, is a Friendly Giant father of four little girls who, under different circumstances, could make his double-fist your misery. He smiles easily but feels a little out of place among such talented hockey players. Sound familiar?

He tells us he would hate to be drafted first overall. He goes fifth and is relieved.

We sit down with the affable Scott for a candid chat that begins and ends with kids but strays into the Phil Kessel incident, that time he paid a Nashville rink attendant to sneak him some beers, and Frazer McLaren’s long-ass arms.

SPORTSNET.CA: So, do you get a lot of appearance offers now?
JOHN SCOTT: There are offers. I could be busy a lot. That’s not why I wanted to retire. I wanted to retire to stay home and be with my family, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m just a stay-at-home dad. It sounds cliché, but that’s what I’m doing. I make breakfast, take the kids to school, go to dance class, go to tennis class, pick them up from school, make dinner, help my wife. We’ve got four young kids, so it’s a full-time job. It’s hard.

You used to fight dudes. Is it really hard being a dad?
There’s two of us, and we still finish the day like, “Holy s—, we’re exhausted.” Sorry for swearing. You caught me six beers deep here.

What’s the best part of fatherhood?
It’s gratifying, and I’m glad I’m getting the chance, because in hockey you’re gone for so long. I’m enjoying every second of it. The hardest part is you’re getting pulled in 10 different directions. If I’m talking to my oldest daughter [Eva], I have my two twins [Sofia and Estelle] crawling all over me. If I’m talking to my three-year-old, Gabriella, my oldest one is in my ear. I’m hanging out with the twins, my wife is calling me. It’s not a quiet household whatsoever. It’s chaotic. It’s a good kind of chaos, but it’s hard.

How often are you reminded about the All-Star Game?
Not too much. We live in a pretty small town [Traverse City, Mich.]. I’ll do an interview here and there, and I do a spot on NHL Network Radio. I do a couple book signings, but it’s not a lot.

How is the book selling?
Good. I’m probably not promoting it as well as I should, but it’s doing fairly well.

“If I would’ve grabbed [Phil Kessel]? Not so funny. Because I would’ve pounded his face in.”

And the status of the movie?
Full swing. The script is done. The hard part is getting everyone’s schedule aligned. When you pick actors and directors, they all have to have the same openings in their schedule. That’s where we’re at now. [Shooting] is a long ways away. Optimistically, the movie will be done in a year and a half. Realistically, it’s two years out.

How important is it for you to be involved in the filmmaking?
Not at all. I’ll go there. Mitch [Albom, the screenwriter] told me I can be involved as much as I want. Depending where they film it, I’ll go if I can. He said he wants me there, which is neat, but if they shoot in California, I’m not going to go.

Which current NHLers do you stay in touch with?
I stay in touch with Burnzie, Pavelski, Bryan Bickell a little bit. It’s so hard. When you’re playing hockey, the last guy you want to talk to is someone who’s retired.

Why do you say that?
You’re so focused on hockey. You’re so into your team. And I feel bad reaching out. I’ll text them in the summer and see them if they go to Toronto or Chicago. I know guys who come through Traverse City. I talk to Steve Ott a bit. Here and there. I just hate bothering guys.

Tell me about your relationship with Bickell.
Best friends in Chicago [where Scott played from 2010 to 2012]. We roomed together, went out to eat together. We spent every day together. Sad story, but it had a storybook ending with the shootout goal. That guy is one of the nicest, most soft-spoken guys in the league. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s sad, the MS, but he’s doing well. He has his family, and he’s on the right path. For years, he was just tired. It’s so hard to diagnose. I’m glad they got to the bottom of it so now he can take direct medication, but it is weird that he went that long without knowing what was going on.

How much playoffs do you watch?
A lot. Like I said, I do my NHL Network appearance. I didn’t watch any regular-season hockey, I’m not going to lie.

Why not?
If a game’s on and I just happen to turn on the TV, I’ll watch it. But I’m not going to look at the schedule like, “Oh, yeah! Toronto-Montreal. I’m gonna watch that!” Not gonna do that.

Is it too fresh?
No. I’m not a fan right now, I guess.

Were you a hockey nut as a kid?
Oh, yeah. I watched any Bruins game I could get a hold of, knew all the stats. Hmmm… maybe it is too fresh. It’s just not on my radar right now. But the playoffs I have been watching, and they’ve been super exciting. St. Louis was my pick—that’s not looking good.

“I could’ve played. I would’ve been up and down from the NHL this year and who knows? But it was time.”

Of the teams remaining, who impresses you?
Pittsburgh. They impress everybody. Nashville—good sleeper pick. Whoever wins Anaheim-Edmonton will be the team to come out of the West. That’s the team to beat.

Say you’re on the Penguins and you see Sidney Crosby get cross-checked in the face by Matt Niskanen. What do you do?
I didn’t think it was that bad.

No! He obviously hurt him, but it’s not like he saw him coming and it was intentional. I think it was a hockey play that went wrong. You address it next year because you don’t want to put your team down this year. When you play them next year, you care of business.

I’m guessing that’s the part of hockey you don’t miss—your obligation to do that.
Because it would be my job to take care of business. I don’t miss that. Everyone knows it’s coming, there’s pressure on you to go and do something. The league’s watching. Everyone is. It’s not good.

Did your wife give you some pressure to quit?
Uh, it wasn’t pressure. We talked about it, and I left her with the decision. And she said, “Yeah, it’s time.” I respected that. I dragged her around for 10, 11 years, so I was OK with that. I could’ve played. I would’ve been up and down from the NHL this year and who knows? But it was time.

“I didn’t watch any regular-season hockey, I’m not going to lie.”

The Phil Kessel slashing incident of 2013 is still remembered in this city. What do you remember from that moment?
That was one of those things where it was pre-season and who cares? The events leading up to it—there were reasons why I did it. I gave Phil a heads-up: “Phil, I’m going to jump you. Here we go.” It’s hockey. Everyone loves a good line brawl. And Phil ended up fighting one of my guys and beat him up pretty good. I think he did well, and he got some hacks on me. I bet if you talk to him about it, he’d say it was funny too. If I would’ve grabbed him? Not so funny. Because I would’ve pounded his face in. It ended well. It was fun.

So what does Kessel say when you give him the heads-up?
He kinda gave me a look like, “Really?!” Then the puck dropped and I shed my gloves.

Toughest guy you fought?
Well, I fought a lot of guys. The shorter guys were tough. Cam Janssen was tough. Frazer McLaren, too, because he had long-ass arms. He was tough.

So some were easy because of your reach?
They’re never easy. It’s always hard when someone’s trying to knock your block off. Some guys have different styles, and they work better for my style.

I heard a story that players used to drink beers at the All-Star Game, but you and Dustin Byfuglien resurrected that tradition in Nashville.
I snuck it in, and me and Buff were the only ones drinking. I guess the year before the guys got over-served, so [in 2016] they made a point of not having beers in the locker room. I’m like, “This is my only all-star game. I want to have a beer or two while I’m getting ready.” So, you get there early. I gave one of the rink guys a couple bucks and he brought me a case of beer. Buff was the only guy who would have one.

How much money did the rink guy ding you for?
A hundred bucks. It was a nice gesture of him.

What brand?
Bud Light. One case. It was just me and Buff. We had three or four each, and that was it. We made up for it that night.

How much team drinking actually goes on during the season?
Not much. It’s not like the old days. Everyone is so health-conscious. They take care of their bodies. After the game I’d always have a Guinness on the plane—gets the calories in you. But it’s nothing crazy. On an off-day, maybe a couple more, but people aren’t partying all the time. It’s tame.

“When you’re playing hockey, the last guy you want to talk to is someone who’s retired.”

Now that you’ve been retired for a year, do you view hockey and your time in the game differently?
I’m still super grateful. I always thought it was going to end. I look back like, wow. Even an event like this, I get drafted over Hall of Fame guys. It’s weird. I feel bad for getting drafted because I feel I’m not worthy of it. I’m definitely super aware of what happened.

So at an alumni event like this, will, say, Lanny McDonald or Paul Coffey talk to you?
They do. But they’re on a different level. I’m just this newbie who comes in. I’m sure if I come to more events, I’ll be more familiar. I just stay in the background and have a good time. This is only my second one. If the cause is good and I really like it, I’ll do it. My time is really precious, honestly, so often I’d rather stay home.

Do you think about how you can best use what fame you have?
There’s a balance. You want to maximize your exposure to take advantage of it. I had a weird experience, and I could definitely profit off it. You don’t want to be a whore, I guess. You don’t want to do everything that’s out there. I try not to do anything I don’t believe in. I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and say, “OK, you’re doing the right thing.” And my wife keeps me in line. She’s my moral compass. She makes sure.

Are you happier now than before the All-Star Game experience?
I am, yeah. I’m at peace now. With hockey, it’s always the unknown. You’re always stressed out about getting a new contract. Are you playing good? Is the team happy with your play? Now, I just have to worry about my kids. It’s good. The stress level has dropped.

“You don’t want to do everything that’s out there. I try not to do anything I don’t believe in.”

You weren’t the highest-paid guy, but financially you’re fine.
You make a lot of money playing hockey. I played eight years. I’m good. Not complaining. I was the lowest-paid guy, but I made a lot of money.

So when the girls get older, is there something else you want to pursue?
Yeah. I’ve done a couple motivational speeches here and there, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I think I have a decent message to get out to kids. I enjoy talking to kids. They get fired up when they see me, and it gives me… I don’t want to say an ego boost, but it gets my energy up, gets my juices flowing. It’s cool to see the kids where I was 20 years ago. I’d like to do that. I think that’s neat.

What’s your message to kids?
I tell hockey stories, and I talk about perseverance. Honestly, I had to overcome a lot of stuff—and that doesn’t include the All-Star Game. To get to the NHL was tough. I never got drafted. I was always the tall, slow tough guy no one gave a chance. I know it’s a cliché: Keep on working. But I lived it, and it works. I think it’s a good message.

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