Avery trying to change his game under L.A. lights
Sean Avery has been called the most hated man in the NHL, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Avery has built a reputation as a player who will say what's on his mind and back it up with his fists.
In this week's Facing Off, the Kings agitator explains why he prefers L.A. to Hockeytown, what separates Alexander Ovechkin from Peyton Manning and why he hasn't popped the question to Hollywood girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert.
Question from David Amber: How does an undrafted, average-sized guy like you find himself playing in his fifth NHL season, already with a Stanley Cup ring, and making more than a million dollars a season?
Answer from Sean Avery: Man, I don't know, I guess probably a little luck. Maybe I shouldn't say luck, I just worked hard. I just took my opportunity and ran with it. I found a role of maybe pissing a lot of people off, and it just escalated from there, I guess.
Q: You had to pay your dues in the minors, including 304 penalty minutes one season with Cincinnati in the AHL. How did you make a name for yourself that season?
A: Well, 304 minutes, that's a good start [laughs]. I fought a lot, just kind of came out of the gates hard. I didn't play any NHL games that year; I just worked hard and waited for my opportunity and worked on my game while I was down there.
|Fast Facts -- Sean Avery|
• He has led the NHL in penalty minutes each of the past two seasons.
• Undrafted, he signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings in 1999.
• He won a Stanley Cup in his rookie year with the Red Wings.
• He scored a career-high 15 goals last season.
Q: How difficult is that, playing a big-guy role without the size?
A: It's funny, I don't realize I'm not 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3; I think I am delusional and feel as big as those guys. It's a good thing that I have that mentality. I can't believe I am only 5-foot-10 and just 195 pounds, so I go at guys and hope for the best.
Q: It did work out for you. You got the call to join the Red Wings during their Stanley Cup season in 2001-02. What was your first NHL moment like?
A: My first game was interesting. We were in Detroit, and I just came out and went 100 miles an hour and ended up fighting Trevor Linden. I think it was Trevor's first fight in 10 years.
Q: How did the fight start?
A: I think he asked me to fight, from what I remember. I think I had taken a run at him, and at that point, no one knew who I was, so I'm sure he just thought I was some rookie who weighed 175 pounds and he could work me over. It was a good fight, it wasn't completely lopsided. I would say I gave it to him a little bit, but it was good.
Q: And then, at 22, you win the Stanley Cup during your rookie season. What do you remember most about that experience?
A: I just remember watching all the great players we had like [Brendan] Shanahan, [Steve] Yzerman, [Kris] Draper and [Chris] Chelios, just learning from them. It was exciting, I was in awe. It felt like it wasn't real; it felt like a fairy tale.
Q: Would you appreciate winning a Stanley Cup more now?
A: It just happened so quick, I don't think I really appreciated it at all. Our team was so good. I still didn't realize how tough it is to win it. I wasn't going to make or break that team. I will always remember being on that team, but I was only a 22-year-old, so I feel the next one I win would be the real one, that's for sure.
Q: You have been described as a pest and an agitator. How would you describe Sean Avery the hockey player?
A: That's probably pretty accurate; I think I'm in your face. I play pretty hard, and I think now you have to respect me a little more because my game is on a different level as far as being able to play and challenge guys and make plays. Probably a lot of guys would rather play with me than against me.
Q: You'll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Is there a dream scenario for you?
A: [Laughs.] I certainly enjoy the situation I'm in right now as far as my relationship with my coach, Marc Crawford, and my general manager, Dean Lombardi, but we'll see what happens. You know this is a business.
Q: A few weeks ago, Crawford said in an interview: "We want him to give the referees respect. He has a reputation and a well-deserved one, and it's going to take time to lose it." How do you accept that critique?
A: I completely agree with him. That was just part of the gig as far as being a young guy who had to find a way to make it and stick around, so that's how I played. I'm now in a transformation period, and it might take a whole season to change how things go. It's frustrating. At times, I want to go back to some of the old things I used to do that got me in trouble with the refs, but you have to be careful and remember it's not worth it in the long run.
A: I don't really know, and I don't really care. Guys I worry about are the guys I'm playing with and the people in our organization. I'm not losing any sleep thinking about what anyone else thinks of me, that's for sure.
Q: How do you think you are viewed around the league by other players?
A: I couldn't care less. I have no desire in knowing what they think at all. Hopefully, none of them like me.
A: It just means I'm going to be more effective when I play against them. I'm not here to make friends with guys that I play against. I think if you are, you're in the wrong business.
Q: With Mario and Stevie Y gone, who do you see as the face of the NHL right now?
A: I think with a couple of English lessons, I would like to see it be Ovechkin. I think he is the most exciting player in the league. That's what we need, someone who brings excitement to the game. At this point, I don't think a Peyton Manning-type guy is going to work. The game needs somebody as good as Peyton Manning, but with a personality like Ovechkin, and that's what he has. He's dynamic both on and off the ice.
Q: Within a three-week period last season, you issued an apology about a comment you made about French Canadian players, then denied making a racially insensitive comment about Georges Laraque [a black Canadian]. What was it like being Sean Avery during that time?
A: [Pauses.] I don't know, I just rolled with it. I don't get too riled up, as I said before, with other people's opinions. It was an interesting year, that's for sure, and I learned a lot from it, and that's what it's about for me, learning from mistakes because I've made my fair share.
Q: What did you learn?
A: I think there's a lot of things that I want to say that I can't say and probably don't need to say aloud. I can go home and say it to whomever is sitting around on my couch at home, or I can go up to Dean Lombardi's office and vent to him, so there's a lot of ways I can avoid making comments to reporters, who are, for the most part, there to get something to write about, generally.
Q: Have you spoken to Laraque since that incident?
A: No, I haven't talked to him. The timing of it and certainly other things I had said during the course of the year had brought a lot of attention to me, so I think if it were someone else, it wouldn't have been that big a deal. It was a while ago, I don't really read a lot of things or listen to radio, so I don't know exactly how bad things got and what was said.
Q: What's the biggest difference between playing in laid-back L.A. and playing in Hockeytown?
A: There's less media coverage in L.A. There is better shopping and better restaurants here. As far as hockey goes, it's nice to play in the Staples Center. Joe Louis was a great rink, but Staples is a cool arena. As far as the fans go, Detroit is Hockeytown, but by and large, the fans in L.A. are supportive. I like it, the weather is nice, so there are a lot of benefits to playing in California.
Q: Is L.A. the perfect venue for a guy as outspoken as you?
A: Yeah, I enjoy it. I'm sure in New York I would fit in and I'd do all right in Toronto, but I'm happy where I am right now.
Q: You're dating actress Elisha Cuthbert, so are you part of the Hollywood scene?
A: Yeah, I mean we do our thing and run with our circle of friends, but I guess it's viewed as the Hollywood scene. We definitely enjoy ourselves.
Q: So, who is in your crowd?
A: Elisha has more famous friends than me. I have my crew of buddies and keep it real like that.
Q: Elisha was in a movie with Paris Hilton, so do you hang out with Paris now?
A: I have spent some interesting evenings with her, that's for sure. She's cool. She certainly has an image that gets portrayed by the papers and everything, but she's cool. The tabloids are not a good indication of what she is really like, that's for sure.
Q: Last thing I read about Paris is that she is staying celibate for a year. Is that true?
A: I don't know about that [laughs]. Like I said, I don't know if everything you read is true or not true.
Q: So, guys on your team must be all over you to try and set them up with some of Elisha's friends.
A: Guys are always trying to get hooked up, but nobody has good enough game to pull anything off. I'm trying to shell out dating tips to these guys; I'm working on it.
Q: Spin Magazine readers selected Elisha as the second-hottest "Significant Other Among Pro Athletes" [Playboy playmate Jennifer Wolcott was selected as No. 1]. Was she bummed about coming in second?
A: I don't think she knows about that, I'll have to let her know. No. 2 is good. She's hot. If you're in the top five or top 10, it's all good. The average guy wouldn't turn down any of the girls, so it's all good for me.
Q: You guys have been dating for more than a year, no wedding bells yet. Why not?
A: [Laughs.] I'm still saving up for the ring. These Hollywood girls need a lot of diamonds. I have to wait for the new deal.
Q: You better get her to stop hanging out with Paris Hilton, then.
A: [Laughs.] Yeah.
Q: When you're done with hockey, what are we going to see Sean Avery doing?
A: Not sure, I haven't decided between sitcoms and movies yet.
Q: Are you taking acting lessons?
A: No, I don't need acting lessons. I already entertain 20,000 people every night. I don't think I have to work on my acting.
Q: That's true. The refs would say you're a pretty good actor.
A: [Laughs.] Yeah, exactly.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.