Okay, I just sat through the NHL All-Star Game and it was…terrific. In typical NHL fashion, the league bigwigs did their best to bungle the affair after noted facepuncher John Scott was voted a starter. Sure, it was a joke fan vote, but after it happened and Scott was named captain of the Pacific Division squad, a ridiculous trade sent him from Arizona to Montreal, who promptly demoted him to the AHL. At the time, it looked like Scott’s All-Star dreams were history. But the subsequent outrage from fans and pretty much everyone forced the league to backtrack and rule that Scott could retain his All-Star status. But still, going into the game itself—which featured a new 3-on-3 format tailored for the league’s elite offensive talent—who among us thought Scott would thrive?
I sure didn’t. And like pretty much everyone else, I was wrong. Not only did Scott write a tremendous piece about the situation for The Player’s Tribune (seriously, it’s a great column), he went out and scored two goals and won the MVP of the whole damn thing. And sure, when you’re playing with such talented players, the temptation is to think anybody could score two goals, but give the guy his due: He held his own and excelled, even. Scott didn’t look out of place, made some decent passes and buried two chances, including a breakaway goal on Devan Dubnyk.
As a result, Scott won a 2016 Honda Pilot and $90,000 (his share of the winning team’s $1 million prize) and tomorrow will go back to the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL. But for one shining weekend, he was the center of a feel-good story that rivals any in the world of sports. And, oh by the way, the game itself was pretty fun. The event was actually three 20-minute mini-games: In the Eastern Conference game, the Atlantic division squad edged the Metropolitan 4-3, while Scott led the Pacific team to victory in the West game by a 9-6 margin over the Central. The final 20 minutes was an uncharacteristic 1-0 nailbiter that was won by the West on a Corey Perry goal (a second Perry tally was overturned after the review found goalie interference on the play). There was some terrific goaltending from John Gibson, Roberto Luongo, Ben Bishop and Jonathan Quick. It was a far cry from the usual 15-14 ASG, and a welcome change. And who woulda thunk that Jaromir Jagr scoring a ridiculously sweet breakaway goal would be a complete and utter afterthought?
Hey, it’s not like I have a total hate-on for the All-Star Game. I fondly remember some moments from ASGs past, like in 1983, when Wayne Gretzky scored four goals in a 9-3 Campbell Conference win. Or 1990, when Mario Lemieux scored four and the following year, when Vincent Damphousse of the Leafs got four of his own. Or 1995, with the ASG in Boston, when Ray Bourque scored the game-winner in overtime. Then there was the 2000 ASG in Toronto, which I was lucky enough to attend in person. The game itself was an afterthought, but the festivities around it were fun to experience, including getting an autograph from my favorite childhood hockey hero, former Leafs captain and NHL Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler.
All-Star Games are still silly, but at least this year’s accidental triumph shows that they can be compelling if done right. How that happens next year remains to be seen, but at least there’s hope.