Towards the end of Wednesday’s training camp practice, John Scott (6-foot-8, 270 lbs.) was going mano-a-mano in the corner with Nathan Gerbe (5-foot-6, 178 lbs.) in a battle drill. Gerbe was dogged in his pursuit of Scott; at times jumping at him like a friendly chihuahua would with a doberman. But as the First Niagara Center crowd roared its approval, Gerbe’s stick suddenly caught Scott in the mouth, temporarily stunning the man known as “Big John.”
Gerbe’s composite toothpick may be the only way anyone can take down Big John.
When the 30-year-old behemoth from St. Catharines, Ont., was signed by Buffalo on July 1, it instantly sent a message to the rest of the NHL that the Sabres weren’t going to be pushed around anymore. It was something that had to addressed, given the team’s much-publicized incident in Boston last season when Milan Lucic steamrolled Ryan Miller without any instant repercussions.
Scott knows that his presence alone isn’t going to prevent that from happening, but he’s determined to create a different result.
“Never say never. But if it does, I think it’ll be dealt with differently than it was last year.”
One day after signing in Buffalo, Scott was joined by super pest winger Steve Ott, arriving in a trade from Dallas for Derek Roy. It’s this mix of size and sandpaper that has already created a different vibe in the Sabres’ locker room.
“I think it’ll be a lot tougher. We’ve noticed a difference even in camp, just the tone and the attitude of the guys. People are a little more comfortable and a little more aggressive, have a little bit of an attitude now that we’ve got a few more guys in here with strength and size.”
Head coach Lindy Ruff is well aware of the importance of a guy like Scott in the Buffalo lineup, comparing him to Sabres heavyweights of the past like Larry Playfair and Rob Ray.
“We all know what John is gonna bring. He’s a real character. He’s been great in the room; he’s been great on the bench. He knows what he’s here for, and he can add the toughness that at times may be needed.”
As opponents like Carolina (Kevin Westgarth) and the New York Islanders (Joe Finley) loaded up on big guys in recent days, Scott ensures the Sabres will be able to keep pace in the rugged Eastern Conference when the going gets tough.
“When you have younger players, it’s an opportunity to provide some cover for them in some tough physical buildings a lot of times,” explains Ruff. “In our case we have some younger players. It should help Marcus Foligno; it should help Pat Kaleta, and it could make Steve Ott an even tougher guy to play against because he’s got some cover behind him.”
When asked about the recent additions to the Eastern Conference, Scott broke into a wry smile while answering the question.
“A lot of the teams are addressing needs. All the size kind of came out to the East this season, teams saw that, and they’re preparing for it. There’s a lot of big guys in the East now. It’ll be fun, I like going up against big guys.”
With 236 penalty minutes (including 22 regular season fighting majors according to Hockeyfights.com) and five points in 136 career games with Minnesota, Chicago and the New York Rangers, Scott makes no apologies for what he brings to the rink every day.
“Everyone looks at me to kind of be the protector; the aggressive guy to help out teammates when called upon. They know I’ve got a mentality where I like to do that. I take pride in protecting my teammates, going out there and finishing something if someone is being a pest on the other team.
“I’m not going to be a second or third line guy; I know my role. I’m a fourth line guy. I don’t want to be a liability out there. I want to protect the team, keep the other team honest and play physical. Get in their zone; spend some time in their end, that’s about it.”
The Sabres will take Thursday off, returning to practice at First Niagara Center on Friday and Saturday. Both sessions will begin at 10:30 a.m., and are open to the public. Parking is also free in the arena ramp. The Fan Appreciation Sale continues all week in the Sabres Store, with all merchandise available at 50% off.