Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Man Crush of the Week #2 - Sean Avery

From my seat in Row A of Section 414 at Madison Square Garden, I can see almost everything that happens during the course of a Rangers game. Stationed centrally behind the net at the 8th Ave. end (where the Rangers attack in the 1st and 3rd periods), I get a full view of the ice, and most of the time I watch the puck and the play, like most people would.

But when a certain Ranger hits the ice, I’m transfixed on only him.

He’s unpredictable. He’s fast. He’s a good scorer, a deft passer. He’s a hitter and a fighter. He’s annoying as hell.

He’s Sean Avery.

When Avery became a Ranger on February 6th last season, I knew very little about him. Because Avery played in Los Angeles and the NHL has pretty much zero west-coast TV coverage, he was basically an unknown commodity. I think this was the case for a lot of people.

But since his arrival in New York, I have absolutely fallen in love with Sean Avery…in a totally non-sexual way, of course (come on, I’d have no shot anyway, this guy dated Elisha Cuthbert!), and so has most of New York.

Avery actually makes me laugh out loud when I watch the Rangers, partly because of the way he goes about getting under his opponent’s skin (yapping away from behind his infamous black mouth guard, throwing well-timed body checks, and of course face-washing players during post-whistle get-togethers), but mostly because he’s actually a terrific hockey player. It truly is a joy to watch the guy play the game. Most people can’t get past the agitation factor to recognize this, and that quite frankly is their loss.

Avery is the player that everyone – including even some Ranger fans – loves to hate. His language on the ice is crude, he’s brutally honest during interviews (“I guess fatso there forgot to shake my hand…”) and his goal celebrations are a bit over the top (though I think scoring a goal in the NHL would fire anyone up and I like the expression of emotion).

But I also think that the NHL’s resident bad boy fulfills the cliché, “Women want him and men want to be him.” After all, Avery isn’t just a hockey player…he’s a renaissance man. When he’s not at the rink, he claims he really doesn’t pay much attention to the hockey world and would rather talk about art than sports. His interests include high fashion and indie music. This summer, he’s interning at Vogue Magazine. Guy’s got a pretty cool life, no?

What I think a lot of people, especially over at NHL Headquarters on 6th Ave., are missing is that Avery has become one of the league’s most marketable stars. And in typical NHL fashion, Gary Bettman and Co. have shunned him. In a league that is struggling not only to garner more attention but also to promote its stars, Avery is a lightning rod for attention. He plays the part of the villain perfectly.

Now, many hockey pundits would tell me that the league is trying to clean up its image, that a “villain” is the last thing it needs. They’ll say the NHL is sick of the Todd Bertuzzi/Marty McSorely/Chris Simon moments that seem to happen yearly and give hockey an endless stream of bad press.

My argument is this: Sean Avery is not a goon. He doesn’t hit from behind. He doesn’t swing his stick at people’s heads. He doesn’t engage in slew-footing like Evgeni Malkin did in pathetic sore-loser fashion at the end of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Rather, Avery is a modern agitator with an old-school edge. And he’s a good interview because he’s articulate and will say a thing or two that catches everyone off-guard. He also has a personality off the ice.

I watched the Rangers playoffs with a few people who are not hardcore hockey fans like me and even they were interested in Sean Avery. Say what you will about his questionable screening tactics on Martin Brodeur…it made headlines, didn’t it? The national media was talking quite a bit about hockey the next day, weren’t they? I rest my case.

I’ll say this before I go. A lot of people have accused Avery of being selfish, especially when February rolled around and Avery met with the Rangers brass to discuss extending his contract, a one-year deal that expires on June 30th. SHOCKER: Avery asked for too much money. Go figure that…a pro athlete acting like, well, a pro athlete.

The thing is that Avery has proven his worth. The Rangers were 33-14-10 this past season when Avery played and 9-13-3 when he didn’t. And then came this gem from New York Post writer Larry Brooks, who scored an exclusive interview with Avery when he was released from the hospital earlier this week after beginning his recovery from a lacerated spleen.

Avery bleeds Ranger blue.

That’s good enough for me. But even if he leaves the Rangers, I will always have a soft-spot in my heart for Sean Avery, this week’s Sports Freakers Man Crush of the Week.


Cathy said...

dude, thank you so much for this post. I'm so tired of hearing all the bull flying around about Avery, all of which seems to focus on negative and are often not even true - I don't even know how many times I've gotten into arguments over Avery not being a goon. I totally have a man-crush on him, except for the part where I'm not a man. But again, thanks for this. It brought a smile to my face.

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