Meet the CPS Bus Driver Who's a Hockey Legend
By Keith Griffith on November 27, 2012 11:48am
WEST TOWN — As Mike Scott crouched in his goalie pads, Chicago Blackhawks center Dave Bolland zipped down the ice on a breakaway.
Scott, a Chicago Public Schools bus driver by day, tensed, raised his glove hand and squared his body.
Whap! Bolland fired his shot.
Save! Scott, 52, made the stop.
But as Bolland skated by him on the rink at Johnny’s IceHouse East, Scott felt a tug from a resistance parachute Bolland was wearing.
"I saw the parachute caught on my arm and it started dragging me," Scott said. "But [Bolland] didn’t realize. Everybody started laughing and he said 'what’s going on?'" before Scott’s weight slowed the Blackhawk to a halt.
"It’s a thrill stopping the pros," Scott said.
Scott is a local legend at the two rinks run by Johnny’s IceHouse, at 2550 W. Madison and 1350 W. Madison. Though he’s never made one of the amateur league teams as a regular player, for more than ten years Scott has subbed in for squads needing a netminder.
And when the Blackhawks, who use the west rink as an alternate training facility, show up for a pickup match, nobody volunteers more eagerly for puck punishment.
With Scott coming through for short-handed teams so often, earlier this year his fellow players came through for him.
In March, Scott was devastated when his goalie gear had been stolen.
"We all pulled together and collected some money, and I contacted all of the goalies in the league to see if they could donate some gear," said facilities manager Eddie Ramirez, 47.
They managed to gather the goalie pads and skates Scott needed. When he entered the locker room for the first time in weeks, he was surprised to find it crowded with fellow players, who cheered him in a standing ovation.
"It really touched me," Scott said. "That didn’t have to happen that way."
"We’ve always marveled at Mike’s dedication," said Tom Moro, Johnny’s owner. "He hauls all of his equipment to the bus stop, and I’m not sure how many people on the bus like the smell of dirty hockey equipment. I think that speaks to his dedication."
Scott, who lives in Auburn Gresham on the South Side, spends more than an hour on the CTA just to get to the rinks. Though he's never been invited to join teams in any of Johnny's three amateur leagues, the management lets him use locker space at the east rink for free.
Scott’s fascination with hockey stretches back to his childhood in Bronzeville, where he spent hours watching Blackhawks games on TV. His first street hockey games, played in vacant lots and back alleys, were ragtag affairs. For goalie pads, Scott strapped upholstery foam from abandoned furniture to his shins.
"He was so in love with the sport, we thought he was crazy," said Scott’s aunt, Shirley Foulks, 68.
Since hockey wasn’t offered at the schools Scott attended, he carved his own stick out of a piece of wood and convinced neighborhood kids to play with him "until they got tired and left," said Foulks.
From an early age, he always insisted on playing goalie.
"He felt like the goaltender was the one who controls the game," Foulks said.
After high school, Scott enlisted in the Army. He taught himself how to skate on the public rinks near his unit's garrison in Baumholder, Germany.
On his second tour, he served as part of a Gulf War task force manning a Patriot missile battery.
"Michael is very emotional about hockey, and when he went to the war, it helped him get through that," Foulks said.
In 1992, Scott was discharged from the Army and returned to Chicago, where he held a variety of jobs before finding work in 2007 as a driver at A.M. Bus Company. Lately, he's been driving a route for CPS near Washington Park for Betsy Ross Elementary, 6059 S. Wabash, which he attended as a child.
"I've had to remind him, 'job comes first, hockey comes second,'" said Eddie Williams, Scott's supervisor. "There's a TV in the drivers' room, and he'll be the only one in there, watching clips from the night before and shouting at the TV."
Scott, who's never married, has an outwardly gruff demeanor that fades when he talks about the community he’s found playing amateur hockey.
"Since I didn’t make the NHL, this is my pro hockey," he said.
"Mike’s helped out a lot of teams," said Johnny’s employee Chuck Koester. "There’s a progressive forfeit penalty which starts at $100," and increases every time a team forfeits by not bringing a goalie. Once, Scott saved a team from a $400 penalty in a championship game, Koester said.
After an informal game, James Veeneman, a left winger and an associate dean at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, described Scott as "a damn good goalie."
"I had two really point-blank shots and he stuck both of them," said Veeneman.
At Johnny’s, Scott has had several opportunities to take the ice with current and former Blackhawks. During their 2010–11 season, he was sitting in the bleachers at the east rink, hoping to get some game time, and was asked if he wanted to warm up with Patrick Kane.
Kane, whose overtime goal had clinched the Stanley Cup for the Hawks the previous season, was at the rink with his father for some light stick-work practice. Scott didn't hesitate.
Kane took it easy on Scott, practicing playing "hackysack" with the puck on his stick and flipping trick shots into the goal with his dad.
Scott said he wasn’t overly excited about the chance to play with the NHL star.
"I just wanted to see my skills against a professional, to see what I need to improve," he said.
In the meantime, Scott will keep spending his free time sitting in the blue, molded-plastic bleachers at the ice rink, listening to sports radio on a pair of AM/FM headphones and waiting for a team's goalie to no-show.
"I can't put nothing [else] down that I have a passion for," he said. "Hockey is it for me."