Sunday, April 10, 2016

Scott Hartnell -- scoring goals the hard way for the Jackets

By Larry Wigge

It takes a knack to make a living out of working in the blue paint. It takes your whole being, tip-ins, deflections, rebounds to be deposited in the net.

Scott Hartnell has made a living out of what some people call the garbage goals.

In the final game of the 2015-16 season, Hartnell made news and history by scoring two goals and two assists as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime doing what he does best.

The 33-year-old veteran got in the way of Cam Atkinson's drive, deflecting in a goal at 2:32 of overtime to end Hartnell's 15-game goalless skid since March 4.

His first goal came when scored on a rebound. It was the 300th of his career and it brought Columbus within 3-1, and that's when this game started to turn around.

And it turned around quickly.

Hartnell was the sixth overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators. The 6-2, 210-pound winger finished the season with 23 goals and 26 assists. His best season was 37 goals in 2011-12. However, he has been the model of consistency, reaching the 20-goal mark 10 times -- including 23 goals this season.

For history sake, Hartnell became the third player from the 2000 NHL Entry Draft to score 300 goals, joining Marian Gaborik and Danny Heatley.

Too know Hartnell ... is to love him.

"I didn't know him at all ... but I hated him," Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno said. "But once he got here -- now that he's on my side and I've seen him work day in, day out -- I really appreciate who that guy is.

"You know what it is? He loves the game of hockey and all it includes. Loves it. The way he plays the game, to get to 1,000 games is tough to do. That’s a lot of nights playing injured, playing hurt and doing whatever it takes to be out there playing. You admire a guy like that."

Hartnell has missed an average of six games per season throughout his career. After suffering a concussion in each of his first three seasons, he said he "toned my act down a bit."

"I was pretty reckless when I was younger," Hartnell said. "I had to change the way I played, had to stop putting myself in vulnerable situations. No way I make it to today if I hadn't done that."

Even at the age of 18, Scott Hartnell seemed to have attitude that was all grown up. The Nashville Predators rookie knew exactly who he was ... and who he was going to be.

Well, sort of ...

"Cam Neely from the Boston Bruins," he explained, talking about the Hall of Fame right winger. "I love that he could score and how physical he was."

The Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, native, had the power forward package. Now, he would have to produce up to form to meet such high expectations.

Neely, after all, was born in Western Canada as was Hartnell. But Cam's 13-year-career was boasted by some big-time numbers -- 55 goals in 1989-90 and 51 and 50. That 50-goal season came in just 49 games in '93-94 campaign cut short due to injuries.

"He is the epitome of the type of player we want in our organization," said Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. "He is a talented, tough, hard-working player who brings valuable experience and leadership on and off the ice."

This man-child has always been ahead of the class in the aptitude department. Maybe that -- in part -- is because of the way Scott was brought up.

Bill and Joy Hartnell were the keys for the way Scott was brought up. They were both teachers of special needs children.

"Growing up, both my parents were school teachers and were involved with special needs kids -- integrating them into the classroom and activities during and after school," he said. "So I just was always around that way of thinking that everyone was entitled to a regular life.

"Some people are maybe afraid or don't know how to act around people that may be different than them, but to me everyone's special in their own way. That would be my first experience, not so much giving back, but seeing how much your time and effort means to people."

"You can look at everyone as unique," said Bill Hartnell.

He said that the father's trips through the years with the Predators, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, allows him to talk to his son about "neat parts of his life and how things are going" and that it gives them "quality time" together.

"Even when he's at home, there's always a few more people around and it's not very often we sit down for an hour one-on-one," Bill said, "so this is good that way."

Kyla Hartnell, who just happens to be a physical therapist, says her famous brother was "very cuddly" while growing up, is one of four siblings in her family to play hockey. Her other two brothers, Chad and Kevin, played in college, and she still plays in two leagues. Kyla gets emotional when talking about Scott, the youngest of the siblings. She gets so emotional that she needs to pause for 30 seconds before she can get the words out.

She co-wrote a children's book called "HartnellDown."

"I brought it up at a board meeting for our foundation," says Scott. "I thought it would a good idea to create a children's book about when you get knocked down, you get right back up again. It happens in school, when you get a bad grade, you study harder next time. My sister and I spoke afterward and she said she thought it was a really great idea. So I had one believer in the group. I started writing things down, she got started as well, and we have this masterpiece!"

In March of 2009, the Flyers held "Hartnell Wig Night," where fans attending the game were given wigs resembling his hair. On October 23, 2010, Hartnell revealed he had cut his bushy hair off and donated it to Locks of Love.

"I had grown my hair out for a year and the next season I was like 'Oh, maybe I should just keep it going,' so I went the next whole season without cutting it," he said. "You've seen it, it's crazy, it's curly, it just does what it does and I don't have much control over it, so when it came time to cut it I was fooling around on the Internet and saw that George Parros from the Anaheim Ducks had donated his mustache for Locks of Love so I thought why not do the same thing?

"So I got it chopped off and donated it and a little money and hopefully some kid is the better for it. It made me feel good to know I helped out in some small way. At the end of the day, it's not like I'm looking for some award or anything like that; it's just something I'm privileged to be able to do."

What was that like, seeing as all the proceeds went to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, a charity that hits close to home?

"That was cool. My mom had a stroke over 10 years ago and lost most of her ability to walk and get around good, but she's healthy in her mind and gets around as best she can and is the same mom I had pre-stroke," he said. "When something like that happens you, it could be any family member, an auntie, an uncle, it really does hit home and you know how scary everything is and how fragile life is. It was very difficult for me and my family at the time and I'm just so grateful she got through it and it's great to now be able to give back a little as well."

When Joy's stroke sent her to the hospital 2 1/2 hours from home, Scott wasted no time in leasing an apartment nearby for himself. It was still hard for him to say goodbye when training camp began.

"I think it threw everyone in the family for a loop when Joy suffered the stroke," Bill recalled. " But I think Joy's strength has come through for Scott and his brothers and sister.

"Scott phones home often. He called every day after the stroke just to give her a pep talk. It's a way for him to give back. She was always his biggest supporter ... and now things have come back full cycle."

"She's not quite as strong as she was, but she's the same mom she used to be," Scott recalled. "If she'd lost her personality, that's what we would would have been scared about the most -- but she's doing good. Thank goodness it wasn't worse."

In early 2012, Hartnell founded the HartnellDown Foundation as a way to provide support to charities that support hockey, children and communities around the United States and Canada. It started as a Twitter following to keep track of the number of times Hartnell would fall down during the NHL season. When Hartnell himself joined Twitter, rather than taking offense, he embraced the catchphrase and began to sell merchandise that had it printed on it with the proceeds going to Hartnell's favorite hockey-related charities. At the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, Hartnell donated $1,000 to charity for every "hartnelldown" mention that was tweeted during the competition.

The 33-year-old, who leads the Blue Jackets in scoring with 43 points in 63 games, is proving he still has a lot left in the tank, too. He's one goal shy of 300 in his career and would love to earn it against his former club.

"We have to make this one count in Philly. I like playing there obviously," Hartnell said. "You get excited for those games. It will definitely be a big test for us."

Hartnell's also recorded two goals and six assists in seven matchups with the Flyers since the swap. Ouch.

"Scott's gone through he whole life growing up quickly," said Bill Hartnell. "I think his older brothers and sister expected mature behavior from him. And when he left home at a young age, he took on a lot of responsibility, making choices and decisions on his own."

What's the greatest thing in life you learned?

"Trust your instincts. You're going to make mistakes, but don't be afraid to live and learn. That goes in hockey, in life and in relationships. Just go with it and whatever happens love life and enjoy every day."

It's like dusting yourself off and getting back up from the ice. Then scoring another goal for Scott Hartnell.

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