John Scott will be remembered forever by NHL fans for two big moments. In 2017, Scott was named All-Star MVP after a fan campaign voted the behemoth enforcer into the midseason event despite the NHL’s objections. The second was Scott’s preseason fight with Phil Kessel in 2013, which saw the overmatched Leafs star wield his hockey stick like a sword to try and elude Scott’s bear-like paws.
Scott, now retired after 10 professional seasons, has a podcast and gave the full story behind the Kessel fight last week.
According to Scott, the fight was the result of a game of chicken between him and then-Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. After the Leafs’ Jamie Devane “beat the doors off” the Sabres’ Corey Tropp and breaking his jaw, an enraged Scott told Carlyle he would fight whichever player lined up across from him during the next faceoff.
“Carlyle gives me this little grin and then he sends out the first line,” Scott said. “I can’t imagine what’s going through their head as they go on the ice because I’m like Red Ross. I’m just like ‘Oh my gosh.’ He sends out Kessel and a bunch of skill guys. And I’m just like, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’
Scott went forward with his promise and the rest is history.
“People always ask me about the Phil Kessel incident,” Scott began.
“That was a preseason game. I think that was my second year in Buffalo or may it was my first – I can’t remember. And going into the game, pregame warmups, I pretty much talked to all the tough guys and said ‘If you’re going to fight, fight me.’
“I’m on the ice, that following faceoff, they throw out their fourth line. I look across the center dot faceoff, I was left wing, and my right-winger is Corey Tropp – a feisty kid. He was my right winger and he lined up against Jamie Devane, who is 6’6’’, 230 pounds, and tough. And so those two start jawing. I’m like ‘Don’t fight. Don’t fight, Corey.’
“As soon as the puck drops, they fight. And Jamie Devane beats the doors off my guy. Just takes him behind the woodshed and does a number on him. Breaks his jaw. My guy’s out on the ice for a while. They had to get the trainers. I don’t think they stretchered him but they might of, but he’s out for a while.
“So I’m stewing. I’m staring at Devane in the penalty box. I go by [the Leafs] bench and this is after three or four minutes and they had Carlyle (as head coach) at the time, and I’m just staring at him and I’m losing it. And he says something. He’s like, ‘What are you looking at?’ I just lost my mind.
“I said, ‘Nothing you fat f*ck.’
“This goes on at their whole bench. They had David Clarkson on their team so he was an instigator. He’s chirping at me. I’m chirping at their whole bench. The refs come in and calm us down. I finally say, ‘Whoever you put out next to me, I’m going to beat the sh*t out of. Anybody.’
“So the next faceoff goes out. We’re the visiting team. I go out there and I’m just salivating. I’m so upset. I don’t usually get mad on the ice. I really don’t. I’m pretty even keel. It takes a lot to upset me and I was very upset. So I’m just licking my chops to see who he puts on the ice. I’m like ‘I want to fight.’ I don’t usually get like that.
“And then Carlyle gives me this little grin and then he sends out the first line. I can’t imagine what’s going through their head as they go on the ice because I’m like Red Ross. I’m just like ‘Oh my gosh.’ He sends out Kessel and a bunch of skill guys. And I’m just like, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’
“They’re coming over to the faceoff dot and I’m like ‘Okay. I gotta do it and back it up.’
“I told my wingers and I told my team then that ‘I’m going to jump this guy and it’s going to get ugly.’
“Before the puck drops, Kessel lines up beside me and I respect Phil. He’s a great player. I know he’s not a fighter. I said, ‘Phil, I’m going to jump ya, just heads up.’
“And he goes, ‘WHAT?’
“Then the puck drops.
“I throw my mitts and I grab him. He takes a step back and starts hacking me. I see out of the corner of my eye their D-man coming towards me and their other D-man coming towards me. I think their counterman is coming towards me too. And I see their one D-man at the last second and I turn and crank him in the neck. He goes down. I get tackled by everybody. So I’m on the bottom of this scrum and I have at least one ref on me, three players on me, and I’m still trying to get up because I know we’re outnumbered because the ref’s on me and the fans are going nuts.
“I’m trying to get out under this scrum and the only thing I can think of is to pretend I’m injured. So I started screaming, ‘Uggg, I’m bleeding, I’m bleeding’ to try and get the refs to let me up. ‘I got cut by his skate.’ And they’re like ‘No, you didn’t. You’re not bleeding.’ I’m like, ‘Let me up!’ And he says, ‘I’m not letting you up!’
“So I finally just kind of gave in because I’m literally pancaked on the ice with three or four guys on me. I’m just laying there and I can feel people hacking me. I found out later it’s Phil still hacking the back of my legs as I’m on the ice.
“That was the start of [the Sabres and Leafs] rivalry. I got our goalie into a fight, Ryan Miller. He had never been in a fight. He fought Bernier.
“Other guys popped their fight cherries and it was fun. I still have guys coming up to me. Mike Zigomanis I just found out was on a line with me that night and I totally forgot. He was like, “That was my only fight. I got beat up pretty good. Thanks for that.’
“I was like, ‘Don’t you feel better that you got into a fight?’
“So after that game, we fought with Toronto every single time.”
That infamous preseason game saw 239 penalty minutes registered with the Scott incident triggering 201 of them. Phil Kessel was suspended three games or the rest of that year’s preseason, while David Clarkson was docked ten games.
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