By: Will Burchfield
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland is no fan of Sean Avery.
And Avery, in his new book Ice Capades: A Memoir of Fast Living and Tough Hockey, lets it be known the feeling is mutual.
The former NHL agitator who broke in with the Red Wings in the 2001-02 season leaves a blunt message for Holland two times on one page: “F**k you.”
Avery talked about his relationship with Holland in an interview with the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
“It was always what I thought to be very strong. Obviously, the guy’s been an unbelievable GM in the league for a long time. I think the thing that really bothered me is he made a comment, he questioned if I was really dedicated to the game,” Avery said.
Holland, who dealt Avery to the Kings at the 2003 trade deadline as part of the package for defenseman Mathieu Schneider, later said the controversial forward would not be welcome back in Detroit in the wake of his six-game suspension for his infamous comment regarding Elisha Cuthbert and then-Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf.
“The only thing I would say is obviously we had him as a young player at that time and our concern was his lack of respect for the game, the people in the game and, obviously, he left us. He has worked his way through a few organizations now and it’s apparent that he hasn’t matured,” Holland told NHL.com in 2008.
Avery, who retired from the NHL in 2012 after a 13-year career, feels Holland was out of line.
“I played a long time in the NHL. I learned how to be a conditioned athlete from a guy by the name of Kris Draper,” said Avery, referring to the longtime Red Wing who now serves as a special assistant to Holland. “I was one of the best-conditioned athletes in the NHL over the last 20 years, so when Ken Holland questioned whether I was committed to the game it really bothered me because that was a statement that he knew nothing about.
“I think he was questioning whether I was committed to being the best on-ice player that I could possibly be, and that’s not what my focus was. My focus was being the best player that Sean Avery could be, which was to make sure that I had the longest career possible and I was going to play a certain way. That didn’t mean that I didn’t love the game or I wasn’t preparing myself for the future.”
Known as much for his exploits off the ice as those on it, Avery said Holland once told a young told Henrik Zetterberg to stay away from Avery because of his party lifestyle. Zetterberg and Avery were teammates in the 2002-03 season, when the former was a rookie.
“I guess the ironic thing is that I learned from the best partiers in the history of the game, like (Chris) Chelios, Joey Kocur, you can throw Dominik Hasek in that pile. The list goes on,” Avery said.
During his time with the Red Wings, with whom he played for parts of two seasons in 2001-02 and 2002-03, Avery took a liking to Post Bar in downtown Detroit.
“I don’t think there’s a better bar in the history of sports. For a 20-year-old to be able to walk into a bar and pretty much have the pick of the litter, I never got a bill at the end of the night, it was the greatest,” Avery said. “Really just an amazing time for that place.”
(The Bar has since closed.)
Chelios is one player Avery speaks highly of in his memoir. (Others, such as Mike Modano, aren’t so lucky.) The two became good friends when they crossed paths in Detroit and enjoyed some memorable times off the ice. Chelios’ house parties are the stuff of legend.
“He knows every cool person on the planet,” Avery said.
He has fond memories of hanging out with Chelios and former Red Wings head coach Scotty Bowman, in the team’s steam room of all places.
“I was always in the steam room with Chelie,” Avery said. “Chelie invented the desert storm ride where he used to put the bicycle in the sauna and he would just ride and ride and ride and he wouldn’t stop riding until he felt like every ounce of beer was out of his body.
“And then every once in a while you got lucky enough to have Scotty roll in and the conversation would always go into a very interesting direction. Scotty Bowman, at that moment, became a student of Sean Avery and wanted to know all about me and where I came from. It’s just one of the most amazing stories that I personally remember over my career.”
Other highlights from the interview:
On filling the role of agitator: “I played the same way since I was 11 years old, so I hadn’t really put a term on it. I think it’s interesting now that the enforcer doesn’t exist in the NHL. I think that the agitator’s always going to be able to exist as long as there’s an agitator that knows how to skate and pass.
“Skating was my specialty. I was a great skater and I could skate with the best players in the league clearly. Playing in Detroit in 2002 as a rookie, you had to be able to skate. I never consciously called myself (an agitator), but I knew exactly what I was doing and I knew the type of game that I was playing. I knew that if I wasn’t pissing off the other team then I wasn’t playing my game.”
On face-screening Martin Brodeur in the 2008 playoffs, which forced the NHL to change its rulebook, and why he was then cast as a villain: “I think I did it in a sport that celebrates the same. The people that chastised me for that were almost embarrassed that there was a loophole so obvious. When I made the decision to go out there and do that to Brodeur it just made sense.
“We have this term of screening the goalie. Tomas Holmstrom, the best guy ever to stand in front of the net and screen the goalie — well, why not screen the goalie where you can actually see the goalie’s eyes? That’s sort of what I did, and then I went to bed that night and I woke up and they had either created a rule or changed an existing rule. I still don’t know.”
On the state of his relationship with Phaneuf: “I never had a relationship with him except six degrees – or one degree – of separation. We’re definitely not going to have a beer with each other anytime soon.”