In his six years as a National Hockey League player, John Scott was never before suspended by the league.
His first time, however, has been wrapped in national attention.
Scott was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Thursday afternoon pending a disciplinary hearing for his blindside hit to the head of Loui Ericksson in Boston’s 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night. His elbow caught Eriksson in the head, leaving him woozy and needing assistance to leave the ice.
He, along with Sabres coach Ron Rolston, were hammered in the national media. Scott was called a goon and analysts questioned why he had a job in the NHL in the first place. Rolston came under fire for putting Scott on the ice along with his apparent inability to control the aggression of his players.
Thursday morning at First Niagara Center, Scott was apologetic for the hit, rejected claims he was a “goon” and defended his head coach.
For starters, Scott said he didn’t realize his check caught Eriksson in the head.
“It happened pretty fast,” Scott said. “I just thought I was completing a check, but obviously I hit his head. It wasn’t exactly what I was aiming for. I didn’t want to do that.
“It’s just a bad play. Unfortunate it happened. … Honest to God, I didn’t realize it was that bad of a hit, because I was in the box, I was asking the ref like, ‘was it a head hit?’ I didn’t set out to do that.’ ”
Scott said he sent a text to Eriksson on Wednesday night that said, “Sorry for the hit.” Eriksson stayed overnight in Buffalo for observation. The latest reports were that he was experiencing concussion-like symptoms but was expected to travel back to Boston on Thursday.
Scott received a match penalty for the head shot and subsequently was offered an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety. He did not know when that hearing would take place but players who have an in-person hearing are generally looking at a suspension of five or more games.
The 31-year-old forward led the Sabres in fighting majors last season with seven. He hasn’t scored a goal in 152 games (last goal was Nov. 15, 2009) and hasn’t recorded an assist in 61 games (last on Dec. 16, 2011). He’s averaging 4:57 minutes of ice time and has played in seven of the team’s first 11 games.
In September, the NHL fined Rolston for “player selection and team conduct” after he put Scott on the ice late in a preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The move sparked a massive brawl.
The popular pundit stance is that there’s no room in the NHL for John Scott.
Steve Ott disagrees.
“There’s definitely a place for him in the game,” the co-captain said. “I thought he had a strong game, one of the best nights I’ve seen him play. John’s a big individual for us but in no instance has he had a previous record by any means.
“He’s hard to play against. He keeps guys honest out there. … He’s not a dirty player. Because he fights doesn’t make him a dirty player. He’s doing a job out there for us and he does his job well.”
“I don’t think I’m a dirty player,” Scott said. “I try to play within the code, within the rules. This is my first suspension. I don’t try to be a dirty player. I kind of feel really upset. I was sick to my stomach last night knowing what happened, watching the video. I just kind of regret the whole situation. I don’t want to be a dirty player.”
Asked about Rolston and the accusation swirling about that he was sent out there to cause trouble, Scott became passionate:
“It’s just nonsense. There was 14 minutes left in the game,” Scott said. “If you watch my shifts, our line was doing pretty well. We had zone time. We were playing really well. So to say he sends me out there just to hurt somebody is just asinine, is just completely false and not what happens at all.
“I’m a hockey player. I go out there and I play my game. I’m physical. I hit. That’s my role. Like, I’m not going to score a million goals. I get frustrated when people say I’m a goon and this and that. I have a role. I do it.”
Rolston brushed off the criticism. He noted that Scott has played all season for the Sabres and that, “he is a fighter in this league but I think he’s not looking for that. He wants to be a better player.”
As far as handling the criticism of his own coaching, Rolston said his approach is to “just wake up the next morning and do your job. That’s how I handle it. Just come to the rink and do my job.”