Fiesty Sean Avery has emerged as a skilled force
Posted: Monday April 16, 2007 12:32PM; Updated: Tuesday April 24, 2007 4:52PM
Sean Avery is trying to change the way people perceive him. No wonder. In a Hockey News poll this year, his peers voted him the NHL's most hated player. Yet, with big-name first-timers like Sidney Crosby and Roberto Luongo entering the playoffs this spring, Avery is doing what he seemingly always does -- bull his way into the spotlight.
Yes, Crosby had the dramatic game-winner for the Penguins in Game 2 at Ottawa and Luongo has been his usual brilliant self in back-stopping the Canucks to a 2-1 series lead against Dallas.
Still, Avery's performance in the Rangers' first two playoff games against Atlanta was revelatory. He didn't cross the numbskull line in Game 1 despite several opportunities to retaliate; meanwhile, he fired a game-high seven shots on goal. In Game 2, he again led all players with nine shots, scoring once and setting up Brendan Shanahan's game-winner with a deft pass across the slot.
Most impressive is that Avery's rollicking style on the forecheck, usually far from collision-free, has been under control. He is creating chances while banging bodies -- giving and getting in equal doses -- without losing his composure.
By the end of Game 2, the entire Thrashers' team was looking to put a licking on him rather than do what was necessary to get the puck up the ice in an attempt to tie the score. Now that's being an impact player -- producing while getting under the skin of the opposition. It is especially salient when you consider that the Thrashers entered the series hoping to make sure Avery didn't become a factor.
Well, too late for that now.
Yet when the Rangers acquired Avery from the L.A. Kings in the first week of February, they knew it was somewhat of a gamble. But as they asked around, the word was that he had more skill than most people realized. The caution came as well that the challenge would be keeping him "under control". That's a tough call when Avery himself says he's at his best when playing on the edge. He gives coach Tom Renney full marks for letting him go out and play freely, letting Avery prove that he has an understanding of where that line of acceptability resides. Renney is just as complimentary of Avery in acknowledging what he has brought to this team.
Part of Avery's successful assimilation has to do with the veterans on the Rangers -- Shanahan, Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander in particular -- accepting him and embracing his intensity. It was an element the Rangers needed, and since Avery arrived on Broadway, the Blueshirts have been a smash hit. And maybe we shouldn't be surprised. After all, Avery's story is one of doing whatever it takes: Undrafted. Undersized. Traded twice. NHL penalty minute leader for two straight years.
Outlandish behavior and outrageous comments defined him as much as anything. Yet here he is wanting more. Avery isn't satisfied with simply being a character of the game. He is trying to prove that he can also play the game with character.