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Hockey Notes

Villains are part of the play

Inflammatory Avery has his role down

Email|Print| Text size + By Kevin Paul Dupont
November 18, 2007

Fine, you're probably not going to invite Sean Avery over to the house for dinner, drinks, and a fireside chat. Understood. He lacks in manners and, by a growing number of accounts, he's a social ignoramus.

"Time for this guy to go away," one NHL veteran said late last week. "Right now."

A few other players I talked to expressed similar sentiments following the Ranger forward's most recent dust-up, which had him pushing and yapping with Toronto's Darcy Tucker and Jason Blake prior to last Saturday night's game at Air Canada Centre.

"Belak: Someone will 'kill' Avery" - that was the eye-catching headline in Tuesday's Toronto Sun, over a story in which Leafs defenseman Wade Belak went on to say, "One day [Avery's] going to say something the wrong way, and he'll be clubbed."

The center of the issue here is something that Avery has vehemently denied saying in that pregame scrum with Blake and Tucker. There were rumblings that Avery, the game's foremost agitator, allegedly tried to goad Blake into a fight by saying something vulgar relating to Blake's recent cancer diagnosis.

For the record, neither Blake nor Tucker confirmed that Avery said anything about cancer. The NHL, quick to discipline both Tucker and Avery, as well as their teams, did not characterize the language used by any of the players. Avery was hit with a $2,500 fine, and Tucker was fined $1,000; Avery received the higher amount because he was involved in a similar incident Nov. 3 in which he engaged New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and David Clarkson. The Rangers also had to pony up $25,000, and the Maple Leafs $10,000.

"That's not the worst thing that's ever been said," Blake said later. "And I don't know if he said it."

Absent anyone stepping up and confirming it, well, without the sound clip, we must acquit.

Nobody is suggesting that the subject of anyone's illness is permissible. It's disgusting.

Two years ago, Edmonton winger Georges Laraque, who is black, accused Avery, then with the Kings, of uttering a racial slur during a game. Avery skated away without being disciplined, saying that Laraque "fabricated the whole thing." The league's disciplinarian, Colin Campbell, cited lack of evidence and did not discipline Avery.

Earlier that same 2005-06 season, Avery insulted Phoenix blue liner Denis Gauthier, following a game in which Gauthier caught Avery with a pretty good hit and then didn't fight. "Typical of most French-Canadian guys in our league with a visor on," noted Avery. Everyone in Quebec bristled with that one.

Avery, for the record, did later apologize. Campbell labeled the remark "insensitive and inappropriate" but not punishable. And now we have the latest imbroglio, in which Avery professes innocence, Blake claims to have heard nothing, and players and fans shake their heads.

Now, I will say this: Give me a few more Sean Averys. Please. The faster, the better.

Quite candidly, I woke up Monday morning in Toronto and loved seeing the Sun bellow that "Someone will 'kill' Avery." I felt there was hope for a league that I once loved.

Anyone old enough to remember the outrage here in the Hub when Maple Leaf defenseman Pat Quinn lowered the boom on Bobby Orr - leading Bruins fans to hang a stuffed dummy of Quinn from the Garden rafters - surely understands the context here.

There is supposed to be some emotion in the product, some passion, and sometimes that emotion bubbles over to places that make us squirm. At least most of us say we don't like it. I didn't like Wayne Maki cracking a two-hander over Ted Green's head, leaving the Bruins defenseman brain-damaged, but that's a long way from hanging a dummy in effigy, or Avery's politically incorrect, sometimes outrageous smack talk.

Avery, with all his warts, makes a huge difference in the Ranger lineup. In fact, his contribution often outweighs that of the Rangers' most skilled player, Jaromir Jagr. The night he got into it with Messrs. Tucker and Blake, he later scored a goal, added an assist, and had a fight with Tucker. The old Gordie Howe hat trick.

Every time Avery steps on the ice, he is a source of anticipation for anyone watching. He might score. He might trash talk. He might fight. He might knock someone over the glass and into the Zamboni entrance and then chase him under the stands, leaving behind a trail of sticks, gloves, and invectives. You know what? Bring it on.

So there is a trail of evidence, some of it confirmed, that Avery acts like a jerk and says some stupid and mean-spirited things. Get over it, folks. You're not having him over for dinner.

MacInnis a wooden soldier

Al MacInnis, inducted Monday into the Hockey Hall of Fame, was known for his trademark slap shot. When he pulled back his stick, everyone prepared to duck, or hand over a list titled: "Next of kin."

Hard to believe there wasn't an ounce of carbon in MacInnis's stick. He went with all wood, start to finish, in a career that included 1,416 games, 340 goals, and 1,274 points.

"And I'm sure I would still use wood," said MacInnis, generally disdainful of the new one-piece sticks made of carbon and other lightweight materials. "I tried the composites, and I could shoot hard with them - but not all the time.

"The power in my shot, frankly, came from the give in the blade - it's what gave me that extra little snap at the last fraction of a second. It didn't necessarily emanate from the shaft.

"And today, you can't give the blade any flex. The blades now are like a piece of cement, or a brick."

Now vice president of hockey operations for the Blues, MacInnis said he has told St. Louis forward Keith Tkachuk to go back to using a wooden stick.

"Forwards, when they're in front of the net, they can't handle passes with them," said MacInnis. "I told Keith, 'Go back to that wood stick, you'll be scoring 50 goals again.' "

Messier avoided board meetings

Add Mark Messier, inducted into the Hall of Fame last Monday, to the growing list of NHLers, past and present, who believe players have to pay each other more respect on the ice.

However, Messier tiptoed around the issue of whether Randy Jones, whose hit left Patrice Bergeron with a Grade 3 concussion, broke the respect code when he rocked the Bruins pivot with a devastating hit Oct. 27.

Making it clear he was speaking only for himself, Messier said he never once in his quarter-century of NHL play put himself far enough away from the boards, with his back to an opponent, to get clobbered like Bergeron.

"I never would have been caught there," said Messier. "All I'm saying is that I never would have left myself in such a vulnerable position, and leave it to chance that the other guy would do the right thing.

"If you want to eliminate that stuff, it's the players who have to take the responsibility. But everything is happening so quickly. It's split decisions, with guys skating around at 30 miles an hour. And like I say, I was never going to be in that position."

Etc.

Getting the shaft
Sherwood-Drolet, the Quebec-based manufacturer of wooden hockey sticks for nearly 60 years, in January will abandon virtually all its woodworking, and will outsource the manufacture of the sticks to Estonia and China. Meanwhile, the Sherbrooke shop will devote its full attention to the much pricier composite sticks. Guy Lafleur, a Sher-wood devotee from way back (as was Ray Bourque), told La Tribune that he lamented the loss of his favorite sticks. "It bothers me," said the Flower. "The PMP 5030 was the best stick in the world." The Habs icon labeled one-piece sticks as "crap," adding, "What does an extra 20 miles an hour matter when the puck goes 50 feet wide of the net?" A Toronto Star story reported that the company will still manufacture Jason Spezza's wooden stick in-house, and that only some 5 percent of NHL players still use wooden sticks.

Stars dimmed in Dallas
Doug Armstrong, given the heave-ho as Dallas general manager last week, assembled a team that hasn't captured the fans' imagination in Big D, and certainly hasn't done much in the standings after a season-opening win over the Bruins. Now it's up to Les Jackson, once a Boston draft pick, and his co-GM, Brett Hull, to kick-start the lonely Stars. Not an easy task, and Hull, with very little training in the fine art and drudgery of front office work, will need more than bombast and glib comments - his off-ice specialty as a player - to make meaningful changes.

Put game on ice for a night
The NHL, in need of developing all marketing instruments, stubbornly refuses to remain "dark" on the Monday every November that the Hockey Hall of Fame holds its inductions. Huge mistake. There were five games played last Monday when Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, and Al MacInnis were inducted. Why not shut the league down for a night and pay added homage to the game's best? It also would allow the best friends of the honored members to make the trip to Toronto. Wayne Gretzky should have been there for Messier, but the Great One instead had to work the Coyotes bench in San Jose.

Voice in the distance
When Francis was a kid in the Hartford Whaler lineup in the early 1980s, his father routinely drove to Finn Hill, one of the highest points in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, to hear the radio broadcast out of Hartford. "This is before we got him a satellite dish," said Francis. The senior Francis was content to sit there for some 2 1/2 hours, listening to Whaler play-by-play man Chuck Kaiton relate the comings and goings of the Forever .500s. "Yeah, I think he was listening to the broadcast," kidded Francis. "But Chuck's voice was so loud, he probably only had to roll down the window."

Loose pucks
Ex-Bruin Anson Carter, who joined Edmonton as a training camp invitee in September and then suffered a concussion in his first exhibition game, hooked on with Lugano in the Swiss League. Carter played last season with Columbus and Carolina . . . The Coyotes claimed netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, who was waived by the Ducks after being mothballed behind franchise goalie (and Cup winner) J.S. Giguere. Ducks GM Brian Burke promised to move the Russian if JSG held serve as the clear No. 1. Only 27 years old, Bryzgalov is an economical cap hit ($1.18 million) and has enough game to vie for No. 1 work. As of Friday, with nearly a quarter of the season gone, his salary this season ($1.36 million) was already down to $900,000. Yesterday, Bryzgalov started for the Coyotes and shut out the Kings, 1-0 . . . The Edmonton Journal reports that the Bruins and Oilers talked over the summer about a deal that would send Glen Murray to Alberta for J.F. Jacques, the big Montreal-born left winger who has done little in his two-plus seasons as a pro. Jacques in nine games with the Oilers this season: 0-0 -0 . . . He's not Sean Avery, but as of Friday, Phoenix rookie shift disturber Daniel Carcillo led the league with 85 penalty minutes, followed by Columbus's Jared Boll (60) and Calgary's Eric Godard (55). Carcillo plays a lot like Maple Leaf forward Darcy Tucker. Originally a Pittsburgh draft pick, he was shipped to Phoenix last season when the Coyotes sent Georges Laraque to the Penguins for some playoff muscle . . . Ex-Bruins backliner Brad McCrimmon, who broke in with Bourque, could be promoted to Thrashers head coach before season's end. GM Don Waddell, 8-4 since supplanting Bob Hartley, said he has decided not to make an outside hire, and either he'll stay on the bench himself or hand it over to someone (read: McCrimmon) in the organization . . . Robert Esche, odd man out of the Flyer net this year, hooked on with Ak-Bars Kazan in the Russian Super League, where he'll have former Bruins draft pick Sergei Zinovjev as a teammate. Zinovjev was boasting marks of 2-14 -16 in 14 games with Ak-Bars.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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