Columnist image
Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

|Archive

If there is one thing Sean Avery was never accused of during his 11-year NHL career, it was mincing words.

Avery said exactly what he was thinking – often to his own detriment – as he marched to the beat of his own drum in a famously buttoned-up league.

That certainly doesn’t change in Avery’s new memoir Offside: My Life Crossing the Line, which hits bookshelves on Tuesday across Canada.

He pulls no punches. Like in the opening few pages, where Avery dares readers: “Name me a more famous third-liner in NHL history.”

Or, when Avery runs down former Red Wings teammate Jason Williams, whom he calls the “roommate from hell” and writes: “I can honestly say that I would not have shed a tear if he choked on a bone at the rookie’s dinner and we lost him. He was a kiss-ass, one-dimensional automaton.”

Or how Avery pointedly criticizes former Rangers coach John Tortorella for not attending the funeral of enforcer Derek Boogaard because Tortorella said was unable to fly on the team charter because of a hip surgery. 

(Through a Blue Jackets spokesman, Tortorella declined to comment on Avery's memoir.)

Love him or loathe him, Avery is unapologetically himself in his tell-all.

“I’m certainly not going to claim to be perfect,” Avery wrote. “I’m not even going to claim to be a good guy.”

Practically no subject, from drug use in the NHL to sharing a joint and a kiss with actress Scarlett Johansson in the back of a New York club, was off-limits for one of the few players who made as many headlines off the ice as he did on it.

Some NHL players long to score a “Gordie Howe hat trick.” Avery liked better what he termed the “Sean Avery hat trick,” which consisted of “playing a great game, going to a club afterward and getting wasted, then taking a supermodel home for a nightcap that lasts until sunrise.”

It’s just that Avery wants you to know that a lot of what you saw on the ice ­– flapping his arms in front of Martin Brodeur to create the “Sean Avery Rule” or making opponents go crazy with something he said – was mostly an act. 

Some of it, like his hate for Brodeur, was real. But Avery said he thrived on “the adrenaline, that constant conflict – and sometimes chaos – gave me.”

“Make no mistake, I was playing a character,” Avery writes. “I’d put the bad guy mask on before I hit the rink and I’d take it off when I got home. It was a role I played in an arena, just like an actor would play on stage …I played to the camera, and the crowd, and the press box. I made sure everyone was watching. That wasn’t me being myself. That was me being who everyone thought I was.”

That’s why Avery, now 37 and still living in New York, is pursuing a career in acting now. He recently auditioned for ABC’s television drama series Quantico and played a small role in Mark Wahlberg’s Patriot’s Day movie. He has spent months training.

“Walking onto that set, with 150 people there, and when it’s time to go, they’re all quiet and they’re focused on you,” Avery told TSN last week. “That feeling is the closest I’ve had to playing at Madison Square Garden. Once you’ve had a taste of that, you want more.”

Avery said he believes most NHL players are not as fortunate transitioning to post-playing careers because they “ignore” their personal life and interests while playing because “they’re afraid of the backlash of doing something.”

He recalled a time with the Rangers when he would get bi-weekly “check-in” calls from Tortorella. One call came in the summer while he was on the set of Brad Pitt’s Moneyball in Hollywood, where planned to have a small role in the flick.

“I answered. Torts was furious. He thought that meant I wasn’t putting the work in,” Avery said. “Next thing I knew, I was on a plane back to New York. I didn’t do the movie. I was still being paid to be a hockey player and I was a prisoner to never leaving New York.

“Some people think athletes can’t transition because of CTE and concussions. The reason it’s difficult to transition is because they hand you a jersey and say, ‘Act a certain way’ and then 10 years later, they take the jersey away and you’re supposed to fend for yourself. It doesn’t work. There’s no chance for it to work.

“Part of becoming a man means making mistakes, finding things you’re interested in, learning hobbies and making friends.”

Mistakes, Avery made a few. His career was irrevocably altered in 2008 after he made a comment to the media about then-Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf falling in love with his “sloppy seconds” in actress Elisha Cuthbert. Avery previously dated Cuthbert, who is now married to Phaneuf.

Avery was suspended for six games by the NHL, never played another game in a Dallas Stars uniform and was ordered to spend a month in a cushy Malibu rehab facility for anger management. He details it all in the book, including the $58,000-per-month bill.

But one thing Avery said he does not regret is the “sloppy seconds” comment.

“What I’m supposed to say is I regret it,” Avery told TSN. “What I feel is I said something terribly distasteful. But they were just words. I have made amends with that situation. I don’t think I could take it back. If I could, I would choose not to hurt people again. But I just can’t say ‘I wish I didn’t say it.’ I own it.”

In Offside, the closest Avery gets to “regret” was a deeper understanding of why he made the controversial comment. He was just three months into a $15.5 million deal with Dallas, but his heart was in New York.

“I realize now that subconsciously, when I made the ‘sloppy seconds’ comment, I was trying to get myself back to New York,” Avery writes. “I wanted to make something happen. I wanted to get traded. I had just picked a very hard way of going about it, and as I said, I’m very impulsive and don’t always think things through.”

Avery did think through other things, which is what made him such a fascinating character to cover. He wasn’t one-dimensional.

“I was here to play hockey,” Avery writes of his time in Los Angeles with the Kings, “but I knew that I wanted to be much more than a hockey player.”

Avery remains the only NHL player to intern at Vogue for a summer. He lived for New York’s fashion week, and not only to socialize with models. He became one of the most hated players in the NHL, partly because of his mouth, partly because of his outside interests. His book has an alternate title in the United States – Ice Capades: A Memoir of Fast Living and Tough Hockey – because publishers bet Avery would appeal to a non-hockey audience.

“I used Vogue as kind of a social media tool,” Avery writes. “I was tired of the conversations that had surrounded me for the last eight years in NHL locker rooms, ones that would usually consist of cars-[women]-food-drugs-money-watches and more money, so I carried my monthly copy of Vogue onto the team plane tucked under my arm, with the cover very visible, as a sort of subtle ‘bleep you’ to my immediate society.”

The message was not always well received. But Avery won’t apologize for that, either.

“I suppose I could’ve been better in the eyes of many if I bit my tongue and played the constant cheerleader role, but that would’ve been dishonest,” Avery writes. “I went on a 13-season tear by playing the game by my own rules and learning more and more about who I was. Along the way … I think I might have had more fun than any guy who ever played in the NHL.”

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli