Recently-retired Scott Hartnell discusses his long NHL career, post-hockey life and his resemblance to Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty.
Earlier this week, Scott Hartnell was speaking from his house outside Columbus, Ohio, where he was busily packing for a getaway vacation to Florida. Such are the sun-splashed benefits enjoyed by recently retired hockey players in mid-November. As Hartnell says, “Not too shabby.”
After 1,348 NHL regular-season and playoff games—not to mention nearly 90 fights and more than 32 hours of penalty box time—the left winger whose fondness for falling inspired the famous phrase Hartnell Down hung up his skates for good on Oct. 1. It was not a tough decision. He had been training for a little bit over the summer, keeping open the possibility of returning for an 18th season, even hitting the ice on two occasions. Then one day he woke up, ate breakfast, hung out with wife Katie and newborn son Wesley, and decided not to leave for the gym.
“After a few of those days in a row,” Hartnell says, “I was like, ‘Oh man, I haven’t worked out this week.’ I looked in the mirror and I was like, Okay, do I really have it in me to put in the work over the summer? When you get older, it doesn’t get easier. You almost have to put in twice the work.
“Just thought to myself, talked to my family. I wasn’t mad, wasn’t sad, I was just happy being around my son. That's what nailed it in the head for me: It was time to say goodbye to the game of hockey. On the ice, anyway.”
Indeed, who knows what other doors will open for Hartnell in the future? As a popular locker room presence and the erstwhile co-host of a Nashville radio show, he would look natural on television. He also reports watching way more hockey now that he has stopped playing—see below—so perhaps some NHL front office will come calling. For now, though, there is only SI.com on the phone, asking about his relaxing time away, his embrace of the Hartnell Down label, his mascot doppelgänger, and whether he’s entertaining a comeback.
(Spoiler: Hell, no.)
Sports Illustrated: What was the best reaction you received after announcing that you were done?
Scott Hartnell: There were some nice tweets. A lot of texts from a lot of different teammates and media personnel. I just love the people I’ve met through the game. A lot of friends who will be forever friends through this wonderful game that I’ve been able to play so long for.
SI: Okay, well, the two that stood out to us were Nick Foligno talking about your farts and then Cam Atkinson surprising you with a champagne spray.
SH: Yeah, yeah, well they’re both funny times. It’s great to have friends who will take the night off to come over, have a glass of champagne, tell some stories. I didn’t know Nick was going to text that one, but I did put him out for a couple games with … I don't know what to call it … the fart flu. Whatever you want to call it.
SI: So what’ve you been up to since then?
SH: Whole lot of nothing. Couple golf trips. Spending some time with my wife and son. Just loving life, actually. I thought I’d maybe miss hockey more, but I actually probably watch more hockey this year than I have throughout my whole career. It’s been a real nice transition. Definitely miss the guys, miss the dinners on the road and all that stuff, but it’s definitely nice being home with my young family.
SI: What’s caught your eye so far in the season? Who are you watching?
SH: Well, I love watching Edmonton’s highlights. What [Connor] McDavid can to with the puck, to be a hockey fan in Edmonton, or even in the league, and watch him play is pretty neat. Been following the Flyers and Jackets a lot. And watch my old team Nashville last year too. They’ve had a tremendous start. Just fun keeping up with those teams.
SI: Anyone out there who looks like a young Scott Hartnell?
SH: People say the young Tkachuk kid from Calgary, he’s very aggressive, very agitating, heads to the dirty areas. He’s got a lot of finish on him too. I played with his dad, and that’s someone I looked up to, to play the game as hard as Keith Tkachuk did. His kid is a really good player as well.
SI: Was it meaningful for you to finish where it started in Nashville?
SH: Yeah, I kind of knew when I signed there, the league’s getting younger and younger, this could be my last chance to have a chance at winning. We ended up getting the Presidents’ Trophy, and Game 7, round two at home, you think you have a better chance of winning. But everything happens for a reason, I guess. It’s just unfortunate that we weren’t able to get to the finals last year and have a chance to win it, but a lot of great things have happened throughout my life.
SI: You could always Mike Fisher the situation and come back.
SH [laughing]: I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve got it in me. It’s fun watching with my feet up and a beer in my hand than going out there and playing.
SI: What kind of beer?
SI: Who was an opponent whose skin you loved to get under? The guy who you saw on the calendar and got excited to face?
SH: I loved being a chirper and being aggressive. That was, I guess, my makeup of what made me good. Every night it was fun to, not pick on someone, but have that agitating chirps. Dion Phaneuf was always good for a scrap. He plays the game the right way. He’s one guy I always looked forward to getting a cross-check from him, giving it back to him, and before the night ended, it was probably going to be a five-minute major for fighting.
SI: Have you worked out? Skating at all?
SH: Skating? No. I skated twice this summer and I was like, Nah, I don’t think so.
SI: Hartnell Down. How did it become a positive, where you actually embraced that phrase?
SH: It was when a fan in Philadelphia was counting how many times I fell down during the year. He had a ticker that was counting up and up. I was like, What is this guy counting? I didn’t know what it was, HARTNELL DOWN. I didn’t know if he was poking fun or having fun doing it or whatever, but you can take a negative and spin it into a positive and it was something that was a huge positive.
We started telling T-shirts, raising money, couple golf tournaments. Next thing you know, we’ve got a bunch of kids coming from Philadelphia to start, then I got traded to Columbus, and I think the last few years we had 40 kids a year coming from Columbus and Philadelphia as well. Kids that wouldn’t be able to go to a hockey camp, to leave the city, get on a bus, and spend a week at a hockey camp, where you can meet people from all over the country and the world, Canada and Europe, it was a pretty neat thing to be able to do for a few years there.
SI: And they’ve all got their HARTNELL DOWN gear?
SH: Yeah, you give them the T-shirts and whatnot. I remember being there a few times when the kids are there. One night, a kid was laying on the ground and I’m like, what are you doing down there? And he’s looking up at the stars in the sky.
Being from Philadelphia, you’re in the city, you have streetlights and stuff, you don’t really take the time to look up. It was an amazing night. So I sat there with him. Adults, too, you take for granted. We had a nice little moment there. Not only did he appreciate it, but it made me slow down and make sure that I appreciated this world that we live in.
SI: Where do the camps take place?
SH: It’s the MN Hockey Camps in Nisswa, Minnesota. Like two hours north of Minneapolis. There’s pros like T.J. Oshie, Derek Stepan, Wayne Simmonds, Clarke MacArthur. I give that camp a lot of credit for my success in the NHL, for sure.
SI: What’s your best Jagr story?
SH: He always wanted to practice like it was a game. A couple practices, I wasn’t that good, or [Claude] Giroux wasn’t that good, and he came up to us and got mad at us. He was like, hey, let’s play like it’s a game. Let’s score goals. He just wanted to be perfect all the time.
That’s probably why he played for so long and had so many points. He wanted to be the best all the time, right? So it was like, man, this guy who’s 40 years old is practicing this hard and comes back at night to skate, I’ve got to pick up my practice game. It definitely made us better that year and tried to keep that going throughout the last five, six years I played.
SI: He’s come back at all hours, right?
SH: Oh, yeah. Keys and the security code and all that stuff. I was like, woah. Sleep at night, buddy. Don’t go to the rink at midnight and have a skate-around. But that was just him. That’s what he did. Pretty cool. Highlight of my career, playing with him, for sure.
SI: Any thoughts on Gritty?
SH: I think it’s genius. I love it. I think people are talking about the Flyers and it’s always a good thing. I think he’s just a character and that’s what you want in a mascot, right?
SI: People say it reminds them of you.
SH: Yeah, I’ve heard that too.