By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — Growing up in nearby St. Catharines, Ont., John Scott loved crossing the border and watching the Sabres play at Memorial Auditorium and HSBC Arena.
His father’s boss had season tickets, so every couple of weeks he’d make the 30-minute trip to the Queen City.
“I grew up a pretty big Sabres fan,” the 6-foot-8, 270-pound tough guy told the Times Herald by phone Sunday night, shortly after inking a one-year, $600,000 contract with the Sabres on the opening day of free agency.
Like a lot of other locals, Scott loved former Sabres Dominik Hasek and Brad May.
He also enjoyed saying the funny names of Buffalo’s suburbs.
“Lackawanna, Tonawanda, Cheektowaga,” Scott recalled. “I was really young, so I just liked that part of it.”
Scott, as Sabres fans should see, has a fun-loving side. He’s also a Michigan Tech-educated mechanical engineer, so he’s usually the smartest guy in the dressing room.
Don’t let his brains or personality fool you, though.
He’s one mean customer on the ice.
“He’s just so tough, no one will ever fight him,” said Ben Hankinson, Scott’s agent.
Scott, who Hankinson claims has never been beaten in his 25 NHL fights, knows he’s feared around the NHL. The 29-year-old believes he’s a complete presence, however.
“I kind of can fill a couple voids. I can play defense. I can play forward,” Scott said. “The last couple years I’ve been predominantly playing forward. I kind of go wherever they want to put me in there. Yeah, I think I’m a prototypical tough guy. I can protect my teammates if that needs to be done.
“I can play, too. I think I’ve proven myself. I can make a decent pass and get on the forecheck. As a defenseman, I can defend pretty well. I’m not just out there to be a goon.”
The clock kept ticking Sunday, and by 9 p.m., the Sabres, a team in need of some muscle and sandpaper players, hadn’t made a move.
Meanwhile, some of their opponents, including Northeast Division rival Montreal, which inked Brandon Prust, got tougher.
But in the end, the Sabres did, too.
“John’s size and toughness make him a difficult player to battle against,” Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said in a statement.
Naturally, Scott’s size – imagine if the Sabres fielded a lineup with him and defensemen Joe Finley and Tyler Myers, who are both 6-foot-8 – should make opponents think twice about running the Sabres, a fairly common occurrence in recent years.
Would Boston’s Milan Lucic have gotten away with plowing goalie Ryan Miller if Scott had been around?
“You kind of look at the situation they got themselves into this year with the whole the goalie getting run and other situations,” Scott said. “I hope I fill a hole they needed, or else I wouldn’t be going there. It’s something every team needs a little bit of toughness. But Buffalo, especially last year what happened, they might need a little bit more.”
Scott has one goal, five points and 236 penalty minutes in 146 NHL games over parts of four NHL seasons with Minnesota, Chicago and the New York Rangers.
He split last season between the Blackhawks and Rangers. He played a career-high 51 times with the Wild in 2009-10.
Scott nearly signed with the Sabres a couple years ago.
“It just seems like a good fit this time around,” Scott said. “I don’t think last time they really had the room for me, where they didn’t really know where they wanted me. But this year it seems like there’s a reason I’m there and there’s room.”