It will likely come as no surprise that Sean Avery's new book, "Ice Capades: A Memoir of Fast Living and Tough Hockey," is chock full of stories about not just hockey, but sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Avery was known as much for his life away from the rink as he was for his abilities and antics on it, and the book is an honest look at all of it. Fans of Avery will find a lot to like in the book, just as haters will likely find more ammunition. But love him or hate him, it's an unfiltered look at the life of a hockey player, and all that entails. (Avery says that he used Jim Bouton's classic "Ball Four" for inspiration while working on the book with his co-author, Michael McKinley.)
In advance of the book's Oct. 24 release, Avery spoke with Sports on Earth about his issues with Martin Brodeur, why he thinks Jim Dolan is the best owner in sports and why you'll see him perform on Broadway one day.
In the book, you write about how your behavior on the ice was, to some degree, an act. But how much of that was a performance and how much of that was influenced by who you really are? How much thought did you have to put into how you're gonna act in a certain game, or against a certain team?
There was a strategy behind my decisions, for the most part. At times, the impulse of the situation just took itself over. But very rarely did I ever lose to that impulse and not follow some sort of plan that I had put in place. That plan entailed looking at the schedule and understanding who we were playing and where we were playing it. On a Tuesday night in Nashville, maybe that was a game that I was really just gonna focus being under the radar, and preserving my energy, and also not using a strike. Because I always knew that I only have so many strikes that I could use per season where that if I got myself into a situation, I was gonna be able to get myself out of it. I was always thinking about how I was gonna spread that out over a course of a season. There's no question.
Now, as far as the character, it means that when I take my equipment off and I put my street clothes on, and I went into the streets of New York, no, I wasn't running around like a lunatic fighting people. I wasn't sh*t talking the guy at the bodega. There were two different guys that were existing during those playing years. There's no question about it. Part of what I love about sports is that you have this outlet where you can do things that you're not allowed to do in your regular life. That's where the entertainment value comes in, and I think that that's certainly what made me unique, and separated me from a pack of men or young men that don't really take advantage of that.
I thought during your career you were often underrated for how effective you could be in terms of skating, and scoring, and things like that. Do you think about how good you could've been, purely as a hockey player?
Definitely it crossed my mind while I was playing and two things with that. I think that personally, I would've drove myself crazy, and I would've been so bored that I probably would've started to hate the game and everything around me. I think that one of the things since I was a kid was I loved -- what motivated me -- was for some reason putting myself in situations that I constantly had to redeem myself. That I constantly had to fight against this chip on my shoulder that I had. I was scarred from an early childhood when they said that I was too small and I was never gonna be able to play.
Now, no question that I think about how productive I could've been. All my antics overshadowed how well I played the game. I don't think that there's been as skilled, as effective a pest or agitator ever in the history of the NHL. I think that I watch the game now today, and I sit back, and laugh because I could still be playing, and I would even be a better player now with the way the rules are set up because I could skate with the best player in the league. I could skate, and I could move the puck, and I could see the ice as well as anybody. Now the league, it's completely built for that. Yeah, it was something that I always think about. I don't think about it with regret because I know deep down inside that I would've drove myself crazy.
One of the things you mentioned on a couple occasions is that you had coaches who didn't really know how to coach you. How would you have coached you? If you were coaching a Sean Avery, what would your philosophy be to get the most out of that kind of player?
Well, I think you use a Mike Babcock, or Scotty Bowman, or a Tom Renney for example, three unique coaches, three very different coaches. Two of them have been wildly successful at the NHL level. They didn't worry about the small things. They didn't f*cking nick pick. They didn't try and be total control freaks. They let men, or young men, have ups and downs over the course of the season and they didn't drive them into the ground as soon as one thing happened. Because they knew that in the end, what you really deep down cared about was trying to help the team win, and they truly believed that you would put the team first. They didn't worry about all the small sh*t that insecure coaches worry about. As soon as those sorts of things started to happen, I immediately shut off and it's one of my faults is that I didn't deal with those situations well, and it was like two bulls going head-to-head. It was a standoff, and I never work those situations well.
There's a scene fairly early on in the book when you were with Detroit, and you're playing Colorado. You're on the bench and chirping Joe Sakic, and Brett Hull tells you something to the effect of, "Never do that to Joe Sakic again." You write, "I'd have to figure out a way to get this future Hall of Famer off his game." That sticks in your head as you're reading it because you know what's coming years later with Martin Brodeur. In terms of accomplishments, Brodeur is at that level. So what was it about Brodeur that made you forget about that rule?
The one thing that I went after Brodeur about that really would make him blow his top is a pretty greasy thing that the guy did. Joe Sakic is a role model in every case of the word. To be honest with you, some of the things that Marty Brodeur has done aren't something that I would think that you would want to follow yourself in a role model type of way.
There are a couple of examples in the book of you going into a game with information about a player that you're gonna use against him. How much preparation went into that? Were you Googling things the night before the game to do research, or was it just stuff you heard?
I think that what the everyday fan would be shocked about is NHL dressing rooms are like ... it's like a bunch of old ladies getting together for lunch to gossip about what's happening in the neighborhood or at the club. We're with each other all day long. We're certainly not talking about world views and the economic downturn. We're gossiping about what's going on in the league. We've all played with each other at a certain point. We all know somebody on the other team fairly well, whether it's our brother, or our best friend, or our former roommate. So that stuff is, you just hear it and tuck it away in your back pocket, and if you use that type of information as part of the tools while you're playing, it's very accessible. I didn't really have to ever go out of my way to find out where this dirt was, so to say. I was just aware of things that I was hearing and I never closed my ears at the opportunity to hear it.
Who was the one player that you couldn't faze? You could be on him the whole game. You could slash him, chirp him, whatever, and just nothing, no reaction.
Oh wow, that's a good question. Chris Chelios actually. Cheli, every time that I played Detroit in my career after I left Detroit, I think on one occasion I had a pretty good game and Cheli wasn't playing. He had a hurt knee. But every time we played Detroit, I did everything in my power to get Cheli to lose it on me and it never happened. It was like the young Jedi coming back to fight. You never win. You never win, and I just could never get him rattled.
One of the other scenes that I'm sure you get asked a lot about is the "sloppy seconds" comment while you're with Dallas. In the book, you say you were just trying to get in Dion Phaneuf's head. But was it in the back of your mind, like, "I don't even care if I get in trouble at this point"? Subconsciously, did you think this might set off some sort of chain of events that got you out of Dallas?
Well, about a week before I got the call to meet with Glen Sather in New York after I had served my sentence so to say, I started thinking to myself, "Wow, you're gonna really pull this off. You're really gonna pull this off." There's no question that I had in my head like, subconsciously, I must've known that I needed to find a way to end the misery that I was in, that I just was in a situation that it was a lose-lose situation. When I got up and said that stuff in front of the reporters, I did that because I thought I was trying to shake myself out of a rut. I was trying to blow the dust off of a situation that I was, like, in a fog. I wanted to get everybody fired up for the game that night. Looking back at it, there's no question that I was trying to obviously throw enough gasoline on the fire that something would change.
You talk in the book about how the NHL has trouble promoting its personalities. If you were in a position to advise on such things, how would you do it?
Well, the first place I would start is I would stop with this idea that superstars are the only types of people that can be promoted. The NFL does an amazing job promoting heroes and villains, and their villains aren't always superstars. They're not the highest paid player on the team. Richard Sherman ended up becoming probably one of the highest paid players. But he certainly wasn't at the beginning and they didn't shy away from that storyline. There's so many interesting guys in the NHL that the everyday person has no idea about. Guys that are classically trained piano players. Guys that are fluent in like five languages. There's a list of interesting individuals in the league that you can start to build storylines around that the NHL just has no interest in even touching.
It's almost like they would never try and fail, so let's just go with the lane that is the obvious and the easiest, and that's so boring. Crosby and Ovechkin, has anything ever happened Crosby versus Ovechkin other than a facewash? I can't remember anything. Until they get in the mindset that their assets are the interesting individuals that they have in this league playing this game, they're never gonna get ahead with this. Until they embrace the villains, they're never gonna figure this thing out because you can't tell a story without a hero and a villain. Doesn't really work.
In the book, you write about how Jim Dolan was supportive of you when you wanted to do an ad supporting marriage equality in New York. You even call him "the best owner in sports." I think a lot of fans would say that backing you up on that was a good thing. But I'm sure you know what New Yorkers, and Knicks fans especially, think of Dolan. How do you explain that to a New York fan who may have big problems with the way he's run the Knicks?
I explain that from a player's standpoint. I explain that from the standpoint that when I got in trouble in California with the cops one night for throwing a party at my house in Laurel Canyon, I had a lawyer show up to the precinct before I had even called anybody. That lawyer wasn't sent by anyone other than Jim Dolan. When I decided that I wanted to do the PSA for marriage equality, it wasn't even a question. When we get on the plane, and go on the road, and stay in the best hotels, and eat the best food, and have the best trainers, and any piece of equipment that we need in our locker room, it's not even a question. It just happens. It just arrives.
All those things that I'm talking about from a player's standpoint make him the best owner that I've ever played for. I think the fans of New York are frustrated that he gives people too many chances. And that he doesn't know how to build a team, all that stuff. When I call him the best owner in sports, I don't think about those things. I think about how he treats his players, and there's no better guy.
He has a reputation for meddling with the Knicks, but not really with the Rangers. Is it fair to say that he wasn't really involved in hockey decisions? Did you get that sense that he wasn't necessarily dictating, "Trade this guy. Sign this guy. Do this, do that," to Glen Sather or to anybody else?
He certainly spends as much time with Slats as I've ever seen him spend with either Isiah or whoever else were the GMs and coaches when I was there. Yeah, I don't know where that storyline has been created. Maybe because he doesn't know as much about hockey, potentially that could've been the reason. But he was a very active owner that was always around. I don't know, maybe it was also because Glen had five Stanley Cups on his resume and he's one of the most successful current GMs in the history of the game. It's tough to meddle with that type of resume. Could be it.
Towards the end of the book, your last years with the Rangers, you're very critical of John Tortorella in a number of different ways. But some of the stuff about the late Derek Boogaard and how Tortorella handled him, I didn't necessarily expect to see some of that. [Avery writes that Tortorella "probably knew" that Boogaard was addicted to painkillers, and that if he knew, he "sure didn't seem to care." He also writes that after Boogaard aggravated a shoulder injury, Tortorella established a rule that effectively banished him from the team while he received treatment, which, Avery writes, "sent a very clear message that he wasn't wanted."] To put it somewhat bluntly, do you think Derek Boogaard would still be alive if his last coach wasn't John Tortorella?
Well, that's impossible to say because Derek had a lot of demons that he was fighting. But what I will say is that I witnessed a coach that was not supportive to a player that was going through a very, very dark period in his life. That was the turning point for me and my relationship with the game. That was when I really started to think about where does the rest of my life matter? I didn't have many coaches, or I don't know if I had any coaches, or general managers, that I believe didn't care about their players. But I think that John Tortorella, I'm not sure how much he cared about Derek Boogaard to be honest with you. That was why I talked about that story. I talked about that story because of what it did to me personally and what it did to my realization of, like, where I was going in this game. It scared the sh*t out of me, and it disgusted me, and I was angered. There was a lot of emotions.
When you were still playing, especially towards the end of the career, you had a plan for retirement. So what are the next 10 years gonna look like for you? What do you want them to look like?
Well, I think that while I started writing this book, I started to open up and I started to get in touch with a lot of things internally, feelings and emotions. I think that because that was happening to me, serendipitously a friend of mine put me in a movie, and I did this movie. It was a big movie. It was a big-budget movie. I was on the train home from Boston after I shot the movie and I was thinking to myself, that's the first thing that's felt relatively similar to playing at Madison Square Garden. I just dived into it.
In the last 16 months, I've been solely, other than time spent on the book, I've been working on acting and got heavily into Shakespeare with one of my teachers. When I look at the next 10 years, Sean Avery's gonna do a play on Broadway. There's no question about that. Not like a two week run. I'm gonna be a working actor either on Broadway, or television, film, or both. I'm gonna write another book. I'm gonna write the book that we originally went out to try and sell, which was a modern-day version of this book called Real Men Don't Eat Quiche.
But that's the direction that I'm going in and it's exciting because it's all led by emotion. When I was playing, my emotion was so controlled and so channeled into one lane. Now in this new world, -- the more unknown your emotions are, the more effective you are in this art. It's been an amazing experience. I think that I know that it's happening for a reason and I'm excited about the next 10 years.