NHL Tough Guy: John Scott on How He Trains and Eats to Stay Strong on the Ice

NHL Tough Guy: John Scott on How He Trains and Eats to Stay Strong on the Ice

John Scott has had quite the year.

The NHL veteran went from being a just-doing-my-business journeyman winger to a household name seemingly overnight after fans voted him into the 2016 NHL All-Star game as a captain. The vote might have started off as a joke—Scott, after all, had only five career goals to his name—but as it took off on social media, the 33-year-old quickly found himself starring alongside the best players in the world.

No player in the league received more votes during the open voting period than Scott, but his journey to Nashville was far from guaranteed. First, the NHL tried to discourage Scott from going to the game. Then the Arizona Coyotes traded Scott to the Montreal Canadiens, who stashed him in the minor leagues—effectively ending his All-Star chance.

Many thought that was the last of it, but persistent fans kept up the chatter about the eyebrow-raising trade, and the voting kept Scott’s story alive—and got him to the game. And once he was there, he made it look easy: Scott captained the Pacific Division to a victory and scored two goals in the process, winning MVP and putting a perfect ending to the event.

The story had all the elements of a Hollywood film, so it was no surprise when a major sports media company announced that a deal had been made to turn Scott’s life into a movie. The project, still in the early stages of development, is being penned by famed sportswriter Mitch Albom.

“It has opened so many doors, to endorsements, and books—it’s just crazy how one little weekend can change your life,” Scott tells Men’s Fitness. “Its definitely given me more opportunities once hockey is done.”

Even after his incredible All-Star game, Scott’s story has plenty for the movie to cover. The 6′ 8″, 260-pound veteran enforcer saw his wife give birth to twins just days after the game. And he’s pretty brainy for a tough guy—most people don’t know that Scott went to Michigan Tech for four years and graduated with a degree in engineering.

Being an NHL journeyman—Scott has played for the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, and Montreal Canadiens—can make it tough to keep a consistent training schedule through the year, but Scott has found ways to make sure he is fit for his position.

“I do a lot of weird things,” he says. “I don’t like to just go and squat and bench press, but I’ll do a lot of functional movement workouts.”

Scott talked with Men’s Fitness about his training routine, his workout secrets, how he stays quick on his feet, and how it felt to play in the All-Star game.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.)

MEN’S FITNESS: What is your training routine like?

JOHN SCOTT: During the season my training really depends on the schedule and how much I play, because sometimes I’m in and out of the lineup. Sometimes I don’t play that much during the game. Let’s say I have a game where I play 6-7 minutes. I’ll jump on the bike afterwards, or if I don’t play at all, I’ll get a good cardio workout in, I’ll get a skate in.

In the offseason, I take a chunk of time off after the season ends. It’s not like I’m sitting at home eating burgers all the time—I’m still fit—but I don’t go to the gym every day. After that, I do a lot of weird things. I don’t like to just go and squat and bench press, but I’ll do a lot of functional movement workouts. I don’t use heavy weights much anymore. I did that a lot earlier in my career—it was good, it builds a lot of strength—but now I do a lot of band workouts, I do a lot of swimming, I do a lot of biking, rowing machines, and jumping rope.

What areas do you like to focus on to stay in shape?

I usually do weights twice a week. The other four days I work out, I do either cardio or “quick feet” workouts, core exercises, stuff like that. I really only work out with the weights twice a week. At my size, I don’t need to gain any more muscle. I like where I’m at. If I work out hard I can put on muscle, I can get up to 270-280 pounds, but at this point, I don’t want to be there. I just try and stay lean and keep my strength where it’s at. I do a little bit of weights, but mostly just functional movement, bands, body-weight stuff. I do more speed and quick feet stuff to stay limber.

What types of drinks, foods, or products do you like to use in your training? Do you use supplements or are you focused more on all-natural products?

It’s funny, I don’t do supplements. In the morning I’ll go with my wife and we’ll throw spinach, kale, fruits—she’ll put in seeds and whatever else she buys—and we’ll mix it up and have a nice big shake in the morning. At night we’ll do it again, we’ll put in some peanut butter, maybe some granola and stuff and have another shake.

What types of meals do you have when focusing on staying fit and keeping in shape while training? What is your favorite meal to have?

I’m just really into eating healthy, eating good foods, we don’t eat too much processed stuff. We do a farm share where we get half a pig, half a cow—I make my own sausages, I eat sausages everyday—and that’s just how we do it. I’m not a big protein shake or energy drink guy. I enjoy pasta, the perfect meal.

I like a really nice pork chop. Give me a nice bone-in pork chop with some applesauce cauliflower, and potatoes. I like potato pancakes. I love a good pork chop.

What area of focus do you think is most important for you in your training?

I’m a bigger guy, so throughout my career there are certain things that you always need to work on. For me, I’ve always been told: “You’re a bigger guy, so you need to work on your quickness.” So for my whole career, I’ve always worked on my feet—bigger guys are clumsy, you know? It’s just how it works. So I’ve always worked on my coordination and my feet and that has been huge for me.

During the offseason what is your training like? Are there certain areas you focus on only during the offseason?

I do a lot of the strength work during the offseason, you try to get a little bit stronger, but mostly it’s cardio work and more quick feet stuff—I do that a lot more in the offseason. Just to try and get that baseline so when you do get to the season you can maintain instead of build. I try and build up my cardio, my legs, and my strength.

I try to focus on more than just hockey year-round. I don’t think it’s healthy to only focus on hockey-related work the entire year. In the offseason I don’t pick up my equipment until the end of June. I think it’s good to take a break. Your body gets used to one thing, so I bike ride all the time, I swim, I kayak and canoe. Just doing different things, I think that is healthy for your mind rather than just hockey-hockey-hockey all year.

If you could go back and give your younger self one piece of advice about training or fitness, what would it be?

I would have told myself to start earlier. I really didn’t start working out until college. I didn’t do anything. It was one of these things—it’s so funny—I remember in my living room at my parents house—we didn’t have any workout stuff—I would pick up these water jugs and just lift them in any way possible. I just didn’t know what I was doing. I think I would tell myself to focus a little more at an earlier age, because I didn’t do anything until I was 18, 19, 20.

After everything leading up to the All-Star game—the fan vote, the back-and-forth with the NHL, the trade—how did it feel to finally step on the ice in Nashville?

It was a little nerve-wracking. There was such a big build-up and I didn’t want to disappoint. A lot of people put in a lot of time and effort to get me there—it was definitely nerve-wracking, but hockey’s hockey, and once you step on the ice, instincts take over. Once the puck dropped and we started playing, it was like any other game, but when you first step onto that ice—it’s very daunting.

There were obviously some big expectations coming into All-Star weekend regarding how you would perform. What did it mean to you to not just play in the game, but win the MVP and lead your team to a win in the event?

It was a nice little validation, because I think people weren’t wanting me to fail, but I think people expected it. Some looked at it like it was a fun thing and some people expected me to just go out there and not do that well. It was a nice validation—not to stick it to everybody—but to say: “You know what, I am a hockey player, and I can do other things.” I haven’t actually watched the game, but I don’t think I looked out of place, and many people came up to me and said: “You played well.” When it was done, I kind of just exhaled and said: “Okay, I did it.”

What was it like to have twin girls born just four days after the game? Did you have a chance to catch up with yourself?

Not really. Literally, we finished the final game and then (my wife and I) flew out the next morning at 5 am and it was: “We need to get ready for babies.” I was putting together cribs, getting diapers, putting things where they should be, and just getting the house baby-ready. So, I had no time to kind of sit back and have a drink and think “Oh, this was a good time.” It was back to the real world. It was sobering to realize what was going to happen in a few days.

What are your overall thoughts about being part of the game? What are some of the memories you have of All-Star weekend?

Being in the locker room around all the players was special. It’s nice to be a part of that group, because it’s all the best players in the world and then me, so it was nice to be included in that. One of the moments I’ll take home is, after the game, after the MVP, all that stuff, I went to dinner with my wife and a couple friends and we had a nice little quiet meal. it was probably the first time in a month in a half where I had a quiet time to just sit back and relax. It kind of put a bow on the whole weekend.

It was funny—there was a party for the players afterward, we went there, and I literally couldn’t even get past the front door. I probably walked about 100 feet and took about—no kidding—probably like 500 pictures, so after that I was like, “We’re out of here” and so we went and found this nice steak place. We went with Dustin Byfuglien, who was at the game and we’re pretty good friends, so it was a good time.

What was it like being called up by the Montreal Canadiens in April from the minors after everything you went through during the season?

It was nice. You always want to be back in the NHL. It’s the best league, so just to get called up, it was a nice gesture. We played pretty good, I did my thing, but it was nice. Montreal is a historic team and if anybody knows anything about hockey, it’s like the Mecca, it’s like the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys, so that was cool. When you think of hockey, it’s the Canadiens. It was cool to put the jersey on and hopefully we can do it again next year.

Do you have a different perspective on your career after everything that happened with the All-Star game?

I don’t regret anything. It’s funny, I definitely didn’t take anything for granted, because I don’t think I was ever given anything. I really had to work for it. So when I was first called up, I really took advantage of it. I really didn’t think it was going to last. So I don’t regret anything. I think I had fun my whole career, I worked hard, and I wouldn’t change anything.

What did you think of the fans in Nashville?

I didn’t know how I was going to get received when I stepped on the ice, whether it was going to be ho-hum or something like that. But to get on the ice and receive such an ovation—I touched the puck and the crowd went crazy, scored a couple goals—the fans were just amazing. So I’m really grateful to the people in Nashville and how they embraced me, it was cool.

It was funny, even my wife and kids were walking around the arena and fans recognized them and started taking pictures. It was like, “holy cow.” They were really friendly and respectful and it was really cool to be part of all that. The fans knew what I went through, and it was really great to get that support.

What does it feel like to have a movie in the works about your life? What has the process been like? What areas are you hoping the film will cover on top of the All-Star game?

No one ever thinks a movie will be made about them—it’s flattering, it’s really cool. No one in their wildest dreams thinks they are going to have a movie made about them. Even just talking about it, I sometimes think, “Really, do you still want to do this?” It’s a cool experience, I think anyone would be excited for that. It’s still in the early stages, just writing the script and trying to do the research, but it’s fun to throw around ideas.
There’s more than just the All-Star game—there’s a lot of backstory and I hope that people can relate to it. I’ve had a weird career, and if [the movie] does happen, hopefully people will like it. I think how I got to the league is a cool story—I wasn’t drafted, I’m not the prototypical hockey player, I’m definitely not the size of a normal hockey player.

How did the film project come together?

Before the All-Star game, before any of that stuff, I talked to Mitch Albom and he said: “You know what, this could be a movie.” Before any of the junk happened at the All-Star game he said: “You have a pretty interesting story and I think it could be a pretty good movie.” The gears were in motion there, and then after the All-Star game, he called me right away and was like “It went from a movie to a blockbuster…it’s gonna happen.” You couldn’t have written how it turned out. It was crazy.

Did you dream of being a hockey player as a kid growing up?

I’m Canadian, so yeah. [Laughs] It never seemed feasible—it’s a dream. The first time I even thought about it I was in college. My coach was like, “So what do you want to do?” I said, you know, graduate and go to work. And he’s like, “You could make a run at this hockey thing. You can’t teach being six-foot-eight,” and that’s what he told me. It was always a dream. I think every kid, that’s what they want to do.

What was your experience like going to Michigan Tech? How did playing in college help you prepare for your NHL career?

It was a really good experience, because I think if I had went another route—juniors or anything—I wouldn’t have developed, because I think it takes a little longer for bigger hockey players to develop. I would legit be the on the ice an hour before everyone and I would be the last one off the ice probably an hour after practice. Just working on my game and it just gave me that opportunity to work with people who were good teachers. Just being in college—it was fun. In Canada, I think university is a little different, it’s not as big of deal as it is in the States—so just being around that atmosphere, going to parties and stuff, it was a good time.  

With the playoffs going on, who do you think will take the Cup?

I would like San Jose, just because I know all those guys [Scott appeared in 38 games for the Sharks in the 2014-15 season] and they deserve it. I wish I could enjoy it with them, but I have a pretty good relationship with them, so I hope they take it.