GLENDALE, Ariz. – The thought of fighting a bear is terrifying. It's bigger, stronger, faster, has absolutely no fear of you and every confidence it can destroy you in seconds.
Once hockey tough guy John Scott put his massive paws on me, I wished I was fighting a bear instead.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to hit you," he told me, right fist clenched, left wadding up my practice jersey.
If you don't know who Scott is, he's 6-foot-8, 270 pounds of knock-your-face-in.
He's spent nine seasons honing his craft, so good at pummeling NHL players he has a hard time finding anyone who will square off with him anymore.
Scott moved from the shadows of an enforcer's world into the national spotlight earlier this season, when a fan campaign gained steam until he was voted a captain of the All-Star team. Scott said an NHL official asked if he thought his daughters would be proud of him for playing, yet he held his ground despite being traded to Montreal and demoted to the AHL.
He ended up being the game's MVP and was hoisted on his teammates' shoulders as fans chanted "MVP!" Scott went right back down to the AHL, but was called up by the Canadiens at the end of the regular season.
Long before his All-Star adventures, Scott, then still with the Arizona Coyotes, agreed to teach me the nuances of hockey fighting in a conference room inside Gila River Arena.
Once he entered the room, I started looking for the quickest exit — not that it would have done any good.
It's one thing to see a 6-8 player a head taller than everyone on the ice, another terrifying one when you're engulfed by his Bunyan-esque shadow.
The helpless feeling grew more once Scott grabbed my jersey and started manhandling me like a stuffed toy.
But what really sent the shivers up my spine were the punches.
Scott was only shadow boxing, but those fake punches came with such speed and power within inches of my face that I imagined he could put his fist right through my head and the wall behind it.
"See, I could just hit you like this," Scott said as we were posing for a photo.
That didn't help any.
The first step in fighting is getting someone to square off, typically with "You wanna have a go?" and gloves dropping.
Since Scott is the NHL's last true heavyweight, he has a hard time finding an opponent, so he often has to stir things up.
"If he says yeah, we go, if not, I kind of go on my way and try to hit somebody, bump into the goalie or rile things up another way where the guy's forced to fight me," Scott said.
With smaller guys (me, apparently), Scott will take a step back to gain some space. He has a wingspan like a pterodactyl, so the only shot smaller players (pretty much everyone in the league compared to him) have is to dive in and get close.
But there's a danger in that. Scott has fought long enough to know what's coming, so he'll grab the player's jersey and use momentum against them, pulling them directly into a boulder-sized-fist uppercut.
"Yeah, that's the one; it's usually game over at that point," Scott said.
Squaring off against a taller player, Scott still usually has a reach advantage, so he tries to grab their jersey around the right shoulder to prevent them from getting a shot off.
Once he grabbed me there, I felt like Joaquin Phoenix weakly flailing at Russell Crowe at the end of Gladiator.
Scott also watches his opponent's left hand, swatting it away when they reach to prevent them from grabbing his right shoulder. Come up short and, well, you know what's next.
"Once you grab here (jersey center), you're done," Scott said.
Scott has different tactics for different styles of fighters.
Against counterpunchers, which he hates, he'll use the stiff left arm he used to grab their jersey to repeatedly pop them in the face until he can clear a lane for his right.
With fighters who flail right from the start, he'll sit back and wait them out, absorbing a few punches until they wear out and he can deliver the knockout blow.
Same thing with big punchers who try to land a haymaker right at the start: Absorb and destroy.
"As long as I can get one of mine in, I'll eat one of his all day long," Scott said.
Yeah, that's not frightening at all.
Scott had several other small tricks of the trade, including how to break a player's grip on his jersey and a method for unhooking his opponent's helmet and popping it off with one hand — while still fighting with the other.
The one that really resonated was when Scott used his oven-mitt left hand to grab both sides of my jersey at the same time. With both sleeves pinched into my chest in what was essentially a straitjacket, I turned into a human heavy bag for Scott to hit wherever and whenever he wanted.
Talk about an uneasy feeling.
Where is that bear?