EXCLUSIVE: Mandalay Sports Media has acquired the feature life rights to tell the story of John Scott, a journeyman player who: was voted into this year’s NHL All-Star Game as a captain through an Internet write-in campaign, got traded and then demoted to the minors by a pissed-off NHL because he wouldn’t withdraw and wound up the game’s MVP before heading back to the minors in Newfoundland. It’s so far-fetched that a screenwriter couldn’t have invented it. Mitch Albom, the longtime Detroit Free Press sportswriter and author of books that include Tuesdays With Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven, has signed to write the script for a film that will be produced by MSM’s Mike Tollin and Jon Weinbach, with Albom exec producing.
Albom first covered Scott’s story when it was an unresolved dilemma, as the NHL pressured the player to withdraw. Rather than me mangling it, here’s what Albom wrote in his hometown newspaper: “If you haven’t followed the John Scott saga, it reads like a Disney movie — with violence. A career ‘enforcer,’ Scott usually makes news only when he gets suspended for fighting. In more than eight seasons, he has been with seven NHL teams. He has just five goals — and 542 penalty minutes! But when the NHL decided to alter its All-Star Game to a 3-on-3 format and open the voting to anyone with a computer, Scott went from obscure bruiser to cult hero. Someone made a joking suggestion in a podcast, forces in cyberspace gathered, and Scott suddenly rose to the top of the heap.
“To the horror of NHL brass, Scott surpassed players like Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin to become the top vote-getter in the NHL. That, by the rules, made him captain of his divisional team. Reportedly, the league tried to get Scott to excuse himself. At first, he nearly did. But after talking to his wife — who is expecting twins — and some fellow players, the 33-year-old decided to experience what he would never experience otherwise. That’s when his team, the Arizona Coyotes, traded him to Montreal, which promptly sent him to the minors. Some suspect the NHL supported that move, in hopes that Scott would abandon his dream. He didn’t. And that’s when people got mad. Fans called him a joke. A New York Post columnist called him “an itinerant palooka” and wondered how Scott will explain his selfish behavior to his kids.”
OK, enough polished prose, Fleming here again. After a stink was raised, the NHL reversed course, and Scott was welcomed at the game as captain, because he was the top vote-getter. Not only did he show up, he scored two goals and was named MVP. Scott not only got a new car out of it because of the MVP award, some of his fellow All-Stars were so moved by his play that they gave all or part of their $85,000 shares to Scott. This was most important because — wait, this gets even better — the 6’8″, 270-pound left winger raced home where his wife, who was nine months pregnant and sat in the stands with their two little girls for his big game, days later gave birth to twin girls. And then, when Scott reported to the Montreal Canadians affiliate the St. John’s IceCaps to play for his new team, he put one between the pipes, scoring a goal in the first game, according to the exuberant movie producers.
Said Albom: “I’ve covered sports for 30 years and living in a hockey town like Detroit, I’ve got a soft spot for hockey stories because, like the city, it’s an underdog sport. When I first spoke to John, I didn’t know the wild turn this would all take. He was at the tail end of a career where he was an enforcer, also known by the ugly word ‘goon,’ a guy whose job is to protect the skill players. I did say to John that first time that this sounded like a movie, and don’t be surprised if somebody calls you. He said, ‘Oh, come on,’ with all sincerity. A day later, I spoke to Mike Tollin; we are part of the philanthropic group PACE, and by the time I was done telling John’s story to Mike, he was in. I called John back and said, ‘We may have a movie deal, right here.'”
By the time Scott’s All-Star journey played out, Tollin had company. “We had an inside track because of Mitch, but this became a bit more expensive for us because there were so many bidders,” Tollin said. “I’d just returned from the ‘Townie’ screening of Eddie The Eagle, where the longest of longshots prevailed, and where I saw the crowd there just eat it up. I got home, and sat and watched the All-Star Game and said to Mitch, all he has to do is a little something and we’ve got our third act. Two goals, MVP, carried off on the shoulders of the players, with this great image of his very pregnant wife in the stands? We feel like this has studio potential, and we’ll develop the script ourselves, but we will be in touch with our pals at studios to share our feelings about the commercial prospects of this.”
Tollin’s sports movie credits include Varsity Blues, Summer Catch, Radio, Coach Carter, Dreamer and The Bleeder, the film about brawling boxer Chuck Wepner that stars Ray Donvan‘s Liev Schreiber and just wrapped. The brawny Schreiber looks very much like Scott, but will he want to lace up the skates after playing the fictional legendary hocker fighter Ross Rhea in Goon, and the coming sequel? Neither Tollin, Weinbach nor Albom wanted to get too far ahead of the puck and risk a whistle (I think they call that icing). But Tollin said this film goes to the top of his sports-film pile and Albom was mutually stoked, even though they don’t really know how long their subject will continue playing, at age 33, so far from his family in Newfoundland.
“This is the stuff of Meet John Doe, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Rocky or any number of films where people find themselves thrust into a situation with an historic outcome,” Albom said. “When John was traded from Arizona to the Canadiens and promptly sent down, it seemed like he was being punished for an arbitrary thing that wasn’t about sports, after he dug in when the league pushed down on him to withdraw. At first, he said the same thing Rocky did when asked to fight the champ. He said, ‘No, I don’t belong there’ — this after fans started voting for him. But then, they pushed down on him and he said, ‘I know I don’t belong with these guys from a talent level, but I do know how to skate, and I’m not going to fall on my face. I may not be the greatest, but I’ve put my time in.’ And he was the best player on the ice that day.
“It’s never happened in the NHL nor any All-Star Game I can think of, where a player in the minor leagues did this,” Albom continued. “There is a universal story here, and also says something about this world we live in. By dint of somebody catching you on a video and putting it on the Internet, you can become famous or infamous without ever meaning to. There is also this irony of him having to leave Arizona to go to Newfoundland so, it would seem, he wouldn’t be able to participate in that game. He had friends in Arizona, it was home and it was the diametric opposite of the place he’s in now, because he wouldn’t back down.”