John Scott reminds us that overcoming obstacles is a dying dream in the hockey world.
John Scott’s All-Star weekend was more than an underdog story. It was more than a mild revenge tale.
There are a glut of feel good John Scott articles right now, as there should be. There are a few, predictable reactionary articles as well, as there always will be. But, the resonance of John Scott with the public and his peers is not simply about giving a mistreated good guy one great day. It’s a great story. And great stories resonate on multiple levels.
John Scott’s story is also about overcoming inequality and mourning the death of our blue collar hockey heroes.
Like most of us, he reached a point where desire and reality confronted each other.
John Scott is not a supremely gifted athlete. He understands this. This isn’t news. But John Scott channeled his desire and work ethic through the limited options available in the game he loved. His reality resonates whether you are from a working-class, blue-collar background or not. He turned size into a skill and has carved out an excellent living for his family.
John Scott doesn’t have the vision of Daniel or Henrik Sedin. John Scott doesn’t have the fast twitch muscle processing of Sidney Crosby. John Scott will never release a puck as quickly as Ovechkin, or even coordinate his muscles to shoot it as hard as fellow behemoth Zdeno Chara.
John Scott’s hockey skills are pedestrian for an NHL player. He was not born with genetic privilege beyond his size. He wasn’t gifted. Like most of us, he reached a point where desire and reality confronted each other. He came to that moment of Greek tragedy where he came face to face with his true nature. But unlike most of us, he didn’t give up the dream. He changed the dream to fit reality.
Most of us can relate.
I dreamed of being an NHL player. This isn’t an uncommon story for a Canadian kid who played competitive hockey. But, I should have realized when I stopped growing at five and a half feet tall that my dream was dead.
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I couldn’t face my true nature, until my last game of junior ‘B’ hockey. I broke down and wept. That pathetic ending is one of the most crystallized memories I have. I couldn’t refocus on what I was able to do to be a part of the game I loved. I’m a fairly bright guy, with an aptitude for teaching. I didn’t use that to be a goalie coach, or pursue the game in a different way. My dream died, and I reluctantly moved on.
John Scott didn’t. His dream was to be an old-fashioned stay-at-home defenceman. He ended up with the most difficult, dangerous and tenuous job in hockey. This is why his peers love him. Regardless of your feelings about fighting, it is part of the NHL experience. He saw the inequality of his talent to the top one percent of hockey players and he stepped around it. Most of us give up long before, or we break against the inevitable. John Scott was able to take the one thing he had, his size, and translate it into a semblance of the dream he wanted.
This story is going away in the NHL. The enforcer is a beast lumbering towards its end. But the decline in fighting, along with hooking and grabbing and the most dangerous of hits have unintended consequences as well.
Obviously, the game is better now.
There was a time when many elite level talents would give up in junior, or before. The game was often brutal and slow. Many of the players in the NHL embodied will as much as they did skill. Harold Snepts, beloved Vancouver Canuck, was not an elite talent. But he was willing to do anything asked of him in the course of a game. Gino Odjick is still amongst the most popular Canucks alumni.
Nearly every team has their blue collar hero, past and present.
Obviously, the game is better now. The skill is otherworldly. Every night there is a highlight that you might have waited a month to see during the 1980s or 1990s. But that is the skill of the truly gifted, untested by the will of the blue-collar, small town thuggish dreamers.
It is intellectually indefensible to care about this loss of testing. It is indefensible to long for the days of routine line brawls and dirty hits. But, as the evidence continues to build, we will eventually understand hitting is a savage and unnecessary part of the this game of speed and skill. Eventually, the place of will and blue collar work ethic will be completely removed from the game.
Maybe it should be, but that is a different conversation.
There is no avenue for those born without extraordinary gifts.
And, if you are screaming at the screen that elite players work hard, I have two things to say. One, you should probably relax. And two, I am not arguing they don’t. All I am saying is that the league is moving closer and closer to a time when goalies under 6-foot-4 are a thing of the past, and there is no avenue for those born without extraordinary gifts.
Since most of us aren’t born with these gifts, we see the weekend celebration of John Scott as a reminder it was once possible. John Scott took the one thing he had, and made a career out of it.
Players, like Richard Park did the same thing. Park took an extraordinary talent for skating, and little else, and made an entire career out of it. Now, everyone skates well. Now, our one gift is not enough.
John Scott is a dinosaur because he was able to thrive on the blue collar work ethic which so many hockey fans resonate with.
We all have, or believe we have, that one thing. There is at least one thing that makes us special. There is one thing that we are certain could be combined with time, effort and luck to produce a monumental change in our lives. There was a time, when even the most moderately talented hockey player believed the same thing.
Now, the bar for entry is too high for most. Only elites need apply. The dream of the blue-collar hero in a Vancouver Canucks sweater is nearly over.
And that is not a story we love.
It’s too close to reality.