Understanding what motivates John Scott becomes easier when you think of him as one of those blocky metal robots from 1950s sci-fi movies, with the visible gears and the antennae sticking out from the sides of his head and a big dial on the back with settings like “DESTROY.”
The Buffalo Sabres' resident pugilist is tasked with two prime directives: “PUNCH”, as in repeatedly into an opponents’ face and “AVENGE”, so when liberties are taken against a teammate Scott both gets retribution and ensures it doesn’t happen again.
So what motivated him to go after Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who is as far removed form fighting as Scott is from goal-scoring?
According to Scott, speaking with the media on Monday (via Buffalo News), he was following The Code, that time-honored and completely nebulous set of standards that dictates who gets punched and when.
Scott believes that Corey Tropp, his Sabres teammate, wasn’t in a fair fight with Jamie Devane of the Maple Leafs in the third period of their Sunday exhibition game. Scott was on the ice when the scrap went down. He apparently didn’t notice Tropp ask for the fight (he did). All he saw was Devane, with a height advantage by at least five inches, pummel Tropp, including a punch that landed as Tropp was falling to the ice, hitting his head.
“The last punch and driving his head into the ice, I don’t think that was needed,” said Scott.
So he stayed on the ice after Tropp went off and Devane went to the penalty box, looking for some measure of retribution. "I would have went after who ever they put lined up next to me,” said Scott.
Maple Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle didn’t have an appetite for further violence. Rather than sending someone out to be pummeled by Scott, he sent Kessel, the team’s best offensive player, out instead to “defuse” the situation.
It’s the hockey version of “you wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would ya?” The theory is that goons won’t go after star players. That’s how Carlyle read the Code. Scott had a different reading.
“I can understand his idea behind it. I obviously thought our guy got taken advantage of the shift before. I was trying to stick up for him, and send a message to Toronto,” said Scott.
So Scott decided that even if the sacrificial Leaf was Phil Kessel, he was still the sacrificial Leaf.
“I just lined up with him, and I knew I had to have a response for what happened the shift before, and I said, ‘Phil, we’re going to have to go here. Just to let you know,’” Scott claimed.
What did Kessel say to him?
"‘Alright, let's do it,’” Scott claims.
So Kessel and Scott yapped, Kessel put a glove on him, Scott dropped his, started chasing him, Leafs teammates intercepted the Sabres goon and engaged him, all the while Kessel was slashing and spearing the Buffalo forward in self-defense like a frantic Jedi.
“I’ve never seen a stick-swing like that. He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. It was an even fight if he has his stick. I didn’t have anything,” said Scott. “Phil’s OK. He came out the better end of it. I have bruises all over my leg.”
Again: Scott is a robot, programmed to fight his opponents. He would have fought David Clarkson or Troy Bodie or any player that Carlyle offered him. But the point is he was going to fight.
“I was surprised. They had some other guys in the lineup. Maybe their coach was trying to downplay it. I don’t know, I was doing my job,” said Scott.
“I don't know what their coach had in mind. I wasn't trying to hurt him. I was just trying to send a message,” he said.
“Their coach didn't have to put Kessel out with me. He kinda knew what was going to happen. It was obvious the bench was upset and I was upset.”
Would the situation have been different if Scott knew that Tropp asked for the fight he was schooled in? Perhaps, or perhaps just seeing a teammate tuned up was going to get Scott all punchy.
So whether you want to debate the guilty parties in the fight or the role of the enforcer, just know that John Scott did what John Scott did because he’s John Scott, and that it didn’t matter who was in the Leafs sweater next to him – something was going down.
"Hey, I'd be pissed off if someone went after my star guy too. It's one of those things,” he said.