Trevor Block – Indy Writer
There are many characteristics that separate hockey from other sports. It is the only sport, of the four most popular in the United States, that is played on a surface which requires special equipment to traverse. It is also the only sport in which players cannot go out of bounds. And of course, it is the only sport that allows and accepts fighting.
The acceptance of fighting has created a player role in hockey titled the “enforcer.” Enforcers are a necessity to a team at one point or another during a season, although less than they used to be. Hockey’s physical nature requires enforcers, or “goons,” who stick up for the players that can’t fight themselves, either because they might end up eating their dinner through a straw or simply because they are too valuable to spend time in the penalty box.
Goons have been around since the sport began, yet they are hardly heralded as a valued member of a team or the league. They don’t score highlight goals, they aren’t showered in awards and they certainly do not make the all-star game. Until now, that is.
John Scott, a 33 year-old, 6-foot-8, 260 pound lifetime “goon,” was voted as one of four captains in this year’s NHL all-star game by fans. He joins the likes of Jaomir Jagr, Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin.
This year’s all-star game is toting a brand new format featuring four teams (one per divison, two per conference) facing off in 3-on-3 match ups. As if a 5-on-5 all-star game didn’t yield enough spectacular goals, this new format is sure to highlight the individual talents of playmakers and goal scorers. Where, then, does an enforcer like Scott fit in?
Scott’s election as Pacific Division captain was based entirely on fan voting, which seemingly began as a joke. Now that he has actually been elected to the all-star game, many fans have voiced their displeasure with Scott taking a spot from a more deserving player. Scott has declared he will in fact play in the game, despite the criticism and despite the fact that Arizona has waived him on three separate occasions this season.
So, again, we ask, why Scott? Perhaps it began as a joke, but it has now developed into an important step for professional hockey. Electing Scott to captain an all-star team is a gesture, and an overdue one, to the role of the enforcer in ice hockey. Scott stands to represent the too-often undervalued role of toughness and comradery on professional hockey teams.
It is no secret that all-star games, in any sport, very rarely exhibit the competitiveness of a regular season game. Scott’s lower level of skill is hardly a detriment to an event that exists to entertain and entertain only. And while fans will likely not get to see Scott tuning up opposing skaters with his bare knuckles (although I am still holding out for a bench brawl led by Scott), they will get to see just how skilled an average player like Scott has to be to make it in the NHL.
At its best, hockey is beautiful and dominated by the breathtaking skill and hand-eye coordination of its players. The problem is, hockey, like other sports, isn’t always at its best. It often relies on the grit of players like Scott. He and other enforcers afford their skilled teammates room to create because every opponent knows that any physicality or animosity expressed towards a star player will be met with a mouth full of fist. Enforcers are much like offensive linemen in American football. Linemen fight in the trenches each and every play to afford the players behind them space to create. Their role is just as important as the “skill” players’ role, yet you would be hard pressed to find many football fans sporting an offensive lineman’s jersey.
But enforcers don’t ask for glory and they don’t complain about their role. Scott, like many others before him and many others to come, do what they do to help their team, and it’s high time that fans recognize their importance in the sport.
What better way than to put him out on the ice with sport’s most celebrated athletes for all fans to see?
Play your heart out, John. This one’s for the goons.