Talks to Peter Collins
NEVER play monopoly with Blair Scott, for the budding Canadian property tycoon knows more about buying houses and collecting rent than can ever be learned playing a board game..
The Scotts already have four properties back home in Winnipeg that they rent out and they're hoping to snap up a couple more over the summer. And that's not even mentioning the lawn-care business...
But when the wage cap bit at the start of last summer it looked like 28-year-old Blair's real estate dealings might be more important than he imagined."I knew before I even got on the plane home what was happening with my contract," he explained: "I had a bye-out clause inserted in it and unfortunately Kurt was obliged to exercise it, although he was pretty fair about it. I remember him saying: 'I've got some good news and some bad news, the good news is here's a cheque, the bad news is I've had to buy you out of your contract - but I want you back.' He then offered me a new deal and gave me about three weeks to think about it. The original offer was a bit too much of a cut for my liking but he offered to make it a two-year deal and the money improved a little and I took it. In my case the buy-out clause worked but the way things are going now I wouldn't recommend it, it makes it very easy for coaches to get rid of you if you don't fit in."
"The 'buy-out' cheque gave me some money up-front and the extra year was good too. I probably could have moved on somewhere else, maybe to a different country even, but we really like our situation here in Manchester and the extra money we could have got elsewhere wouldn't have been worth the upheavel. My wife Laurie is studying for her Sociology of Sport masters degree at Leicester University as well as working and with not playing as many games or having to endure 10 hour road trips I spend a lot more time at home, which means I get the opportunity to spend time with our daughter Erica. There may come a time, maybe when this current contract's done, when I'd like to try Germany, just to see what it's all about, but for now were happy where we are."
After playing junior with the Victoria Cougars, Sault Sainte Marie Greyhounds, Belleville Bulls and Detroit Junior Red Wings in the WHL and OHL, Blair signed his first pro contract with the Quebec Nordiques in 1993 and was assigned to their AHL farm team, the Cornwall Aces.
The following season he was out of contract and spend the majority of it with two IHL clubs, the Chicago Wolves and the Altanta Knights, before rounding off the campaign with another NHL contract, this time with Edmonton who placed him with their AHL affilliate, the Cape Breton Oilers.
Another change at the start of the 1996-97 saw him re-join the Quebec organiation, although by then the franchise had been relocated to Denver where it became the Colorado Avalanche and Blair went on to star with their AHL farm outfit, the Hershey Bears who went on to win the Calder Cup.
Unfortunately Blair's season was cut short when a back injury necessitated surgery, and it was after that that his move across the Atlantic came about.
"I'd missed the play-offs and to be honest I wasn' sure my back would recover well enough to be able to handle the punishing 80-game schedule in the AHL, so I decided to come over to Britain and I went to Basingstoke where I hooked up with Peter Woods who'd coached me as a 13-year-old back in Winnipeg. I'd actually spoke to him about making the move the year before, but I was looking forward to staying in North Ametrica with Hershey. He then came back to Winnipeg the summer I was recovering from my operation and asked if I still fancied Britain. I told him I didn't know if I'd be able to continue playing, but after playing a little summer hockey my back felt okay and I decided to take him up on his offer and with my grandfather coming from Scotland I got a stamp in my passport and joined Basingstoke without a problem."
However there was more than a little culture clash to get over and that's not mentioning the differences in 'arena'.
"The biggest difference was the lack of professionalism. I was used to being in organisations where I was only one step away from the NHL, but all of a sudden I was in a very lackadaisical situation, maybe if I'd come straight to Manchester I wouldn't have noticed the difference as much because of the way Kurt runs things. Everyone knew we were behind the eight-ball when ever we played and whereas the aim in Manchester would have been to win the league, in Basingstoke it was not to get blown out and to keep the scores as close as we could. But I had a lot of fun there and I don't want to knock it too much. I knew quite a few of the guys. I'd played with Hurls in Detroit in our final junior year, in fact we lived with the same family. I knew Steve Brown and Jason Kendall from Winnipeg, I'd played against Merv Priest and with Richard Gallace in junior, which all helped me settle in.
"Although we don't play as many games over here as we do back home there was still a certain level of expectation, both from Peter Woods, the fans and my teammates, especially as Sonny Mignacca and myself were the only ones with AHL experience. As a result I was playing maybe 32 minutes a game when I was used to 22. Plus back home we always had six defencemen dressed, but at Basingstoke we may have started with six but we were rotating three by the end of the game and when your short-handed you get tired quicker."
Yet impressive displays for the Bison was enough to convince Coach Kleinendorst that Blair was worthy of a place on the Storm blueline, and he rose to the challenge emerging with a Superleague winners' medal at the end of last season. Whereas that was a relatively injury free year until near the end, this year it's been one defenceman after another suffering injury.
"There's been times we we've been down to three at the back and at one point I was the only recognised defenceman from last year's team. Neumy, Millsy, Robbo and Hoff were all out and there was just myself and Kevin Pozzo, with Krumper and Mike Morin dropping back. Last season our whole game was based on defence, it was our strength and it didn't just involve the defencemen, the forwards played defensively too, and there was always Frankie at the back."
But Blair hasn't escaped this season's dreaded 'D'-man injury jinx Scott-free (no pun intended, honest Rooster). "I've missed a couple of games due to a broken hand, it happened in the EHL game against Helsinki at the arena when one of their guys hit me into the end boards and I put my right hand out to brace myself and broke a bone on the outside edge."
Despite that Blair's logged a lot of icetime due to the injury situation and so it's not surprising to see him go into tonight's game against the Panthers the club's highest scoring defenceman. "Kurt's given me a lot of responsibility this year, he uses me on the powerplay, on the 5-on-3s, so I should be picking up a few points."
After winning the Superleague title last season Blair along with the rest of the team followed it up this time around by winning the club's first ever knock out trophy, the B&H Cup, which was nice. "Kurt always said it would be something special, even though like the rest of the guys the previous year I'd watched it on TV and thought nothing of it. But he was right, you had to be there to appreciate it and I did feel great."
Now with the chances of retaining the title all but gone Blair is already looking forward to the play-offs, using these last five league games to get in the right frame of mind, as he believes things are going to be just as hard in that competiton as they have been in Superleague.
"It's not going to be easy making the play-off weekend, there's six probably seven teams that can make the final four but we'll be doing our best to be one of them. We definitely want to be there."
Is there anything he'd change? "Personally I don't like the schedule. Last year was a waste of time playing Saturday and Sunday with the whole week off in between, there was no sense of urgency. Back home we play every other night which cranks up the intensity. Here, it's hard to play play play-off hockey when there's so much time in between games, so I'd improve that."
And that's not the only criticism he has of the way the game is run over here.
"One of the draws of playing in Britain is that you know, or you did until this season, that you're going to see it out with one club. But the longer McSorley is over here the more you'll see trades between clubs taking place. Look at any team he's coached and he must have had 45-50 players that have dressed for him, that's because he operates a revolving door policy where a guy comes in for 10 games and then boom... he's out. And once teams see the success he's having with it they'll start to try and copy it."
Being a friend of GB coach Peter Woods led to murmurings that Blair might be tempted to play for GB, but that now looks very unlikely due to the team's failure to qualify for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
"It's down to time," he admitted: "To play for GB I'd need a British passport and in order to qualify for one I can only spend something like a100 days out of Britain over a 4-5 year spell, which means I'd have to stay an extra month or two this summer and then the whole of the following summer, which isn't really financially viable. If GB had qualified for Salt Lake City I would have done it for the chance to play in the Olympics, but now that they're out of the running I can't see the point."
And so to tonight's game and Panthers' fans are not likely to forget the last time they were in the Storm Shelter (just in case you have, it was Sunday 6 February) when Blair scored an amazing length-of-the-ice empty netter in the dying seconds to secure a 3-1 win, just when the Panthers were pressing for an equaliser to make it 2-2 and force the game into overtime.
"I chased Hadden I think to the top of the circle and he fired it at the net. When I looked over my shoulder I saw three pairs Nottingham legs and no Manchester legs. It then became a three-on-two as more of our guys arrived and the puck squirted loose to me. I just wanted to clear our zone in fact I didn't even look at it until it cleared the halfway line, then from where I was stood I could see it was going about three feet wide but it seemed to curve into the bottom corner... exactly where I was aiming... honest!"
Would you rent a house off this man?