‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Sean Avery was never going to survive in John Tortorella’s world. The sort of player who thrives under Tortorella quietly goes about his business, keeps a low profile and plays largely mistake-free hockey without any personal fanfare.
A waiver claim by the New York Rangers on March 3rd, 2009 produced strange bedfellows as Avery and Tortorella were united under the same roof at Madison Square Garden.
While serving as a studio analyst for TSN, Tortorella laced into Avery only a few months earlier. Unemployed from the coaching ranks, Tortorella unleashed a scathing attack on Avery. It was an easy moment to bash Avery after he was suspended by the NHL following his vulgar remarks about former girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert and Dion Phaneuf but Tortorella took it a bit further.
“The league stepped up here and I think they did the right thing. Enough is enough,” said Tortorella. “He’s embarrassed himself, he’s embarrassed the organization, he’s embarrassed the league and he’s embarrassed his teammates, who have to look out for him. Send him home. He doesn’t belong in the league,” Tortorella stated vehemently.
Little did Tortorella know, he would be named Rangers’ head coach on February 23rd, 2009 and just 8 days after his appointment, Avery returned to the Blueshirts after a brief pit stop in Dallas. ‘The Odd Couple of the NHL’ hit Broadway.
News filtered through Prudential Center on Tuesday night that the Rangers had informed Avery that he will not be part of the playoff roster for their minor league affiliate, the Connecticut Whale and more importantly that the Rangers told Avery that he wasn’t required to report for practice.
In other words… complete alienation. The only surprise was how long it took the Rangers to divorce themselves from Avery. Unfortunately for Avery, his season is officially over but I fully expect another NHL franchise roll the dice and sign the polarizing left-winger once he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.
Avery cuts to the chase when describing himself on his official Twitter profile: @imseanavery. Two words are all that is needed from Sean to sum up exactly who he is: “Lover. Hater.”
I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t have a strong opinion on Avery. There isn’t any middle ground. He’s the sort of figure you either love or hate. This kind of split opinion isn’t limited to fans and columnists but also general managers around the NHL.
Avery is a man of intense passion who frequently boils over on the ice. He’s the irritant that can throw star players off their game and bends the unwritten rules of hockey. In fact, a rule had to be invented after Avery lifted his stick upward and waived it to block the vision of Devils’ goaltender Martin Brodeur during the 2008 playoffs.
Hockey purists immediately vilified Avery for what they saw as an assault on the way hockey should be played. A firebrand in his own right, famed Hockey Night In Canada commentator Don Cherry leapt upon the incident and branded Avery during an appearance on Toronto’s The Fan 590.
Cherry reflected upon the incident, “I’ve known this kid since he was about 16 years old; Once a jerk, always a jerk. You can’t blame the referee, because he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.”
Over the years on Coach’s Corner, Cherry has called Avery among other insults… “an embarrassment as a hockey player,” “a coward” and “a midget.”
On a television appearance during the 2008 offseason, Avery described Cherry as “a staple as far as Canadian hockey goes. I grew up watching Coach’s Corner. He serves a purpose but he really doesn’t know (expletive) about hockey.”
If anyone should understand Sean Avery, it should be the outspoken Cherry who often finds himself in hot water due to his own pertinacity for controversial comments. In addition, Cherry fought his way through a 19-year minor league career to only make one career NHL appearance for the Boston Bruins in the 1955 playoffs.
Avery was never drafted and was forced to come up with another way to make it in the NHL besides pure skill, which he didn’t possess. Maybe Sean and Don really aren’t all that different. After all, they’re both Ontario boys who have unique interpretations on fashion and love a scrap either verbally or through fisticuffs.
Sure, they don’t see eye-to-eye on politics, Cherry being a hard-fisted conservative and Avery championing liberal ideals. Sames goes for European players. Don has always been critical of the European style of play while Avery feels that every player has a role. That being said, I could imagine ‘Grapes’ and ‘Aves’ actually bonding over a few drinks.
As much as Avery is an in-your-face pest on the ice, he’s an equally unassuming, bohemian-like figure away from the arena. Had I been presented the opportunity, I would have enjoyed speaking with Avery about his love of Radiohead, old New York bars, wine collecting or really any number of topics.
“I leave the rink and there’s stuff I want to do other than think about hockey. I still regret being so focused on hockey when I was a kid. I didn’t learn how to play the piano, I didn’t read Moby Dick, I didn’t really read anything. Now I’m trying to catch up,” Avery revealed on CBC’s The Hour in 2008.
Avery isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but the majority of his teammates loved him. Playing alongside Avery often triggered intense loyalty toward him among recent and yes, even past Rangers.
Three years playing in Russia for Avangard Omsk and joining the rival Philadelphia Flyers hasn’t softened former Rangers’ captain Jaromir Jagr’s affection toward Avery. When Jagr visited Madison Square Garden on December 23rd of this season, I observed him in full uniform (skates included) searching for a scratched Avery after the game.
Maybe it was Sean’s first steps campaigning for marriage equality that gave other NHL players the courage to appear in the “You Can Play” advertisement that was shown during the Rangers’ national game against the Bruins on Sunday.
His outspokenness, unabashed opinions and ‘doing anything for the cause’ mentality are the kind that can actually rally teammates. Had the Rangers put Avery through re-entry waivers once again, they would have risked the possibility of Avery joining a rival.
That’s something that could very well happen once Avery hits free agency in July. One team in particular known to gather players from their rivals is the New York Islanders. The Isles were believed to been interested in the 31-year old had he been passed through waivers.
What would inspire Avery more than seeking revenge against his enemies within the Rangers’ organization by pulling on a blue and orange sweater?
Chew on that for a while…
Rangers fans, where do you see Avery catching on? Would it be wise for a team to sign him this summer or has Avery finally run out of opportunities? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.