It's September 24, 2007 and the Islanders and Rangers have completed a nasty exhibition game at Nassau Coliseum that's remembered for a fight between goalies Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya. The game has been over for more than 30 minutes. Most of the players from both teams have left the arena. Standing in the locker room hallway at this point are me, a Rangers colleague, Islanders GM Garth Snow and Rangers right wing Brendan Shanahan.
Sean Avery walks by and sees Snow and Shanahan talking. Although Avery did not play in the game, he cannot resist getting involved. "Way to go, Snow," Avery yells. "Yeah, you're bleepin' awesome. Big bleepin' win for you guys, you ---------."
Shanahan says to his own teammate, "You're kidding, right"? and tells Avery to continue walking. Avery ignores Shanahan, draws nearer and says something unprintable again to the general manager.
Snow - a bit of a hot-head in his goalie days - is in a tough spot. As much as he may want to, as a GM he can't throw rights with Avery in his business suit 30 minutes after a game in an arena hallway. No matter who's the instigator, Snow would be suspended for a long time. But he decides he can't just stand there as Avery gets closer and closer to his face.
So Snow suggests that Avery listen to Shanahan and continue walking...but can't hold back a parting shot: "That's what you're best at, Sean. Talking (crap) while you run away and let everyone else fight your battles."
Avery, now looking like an eighth-grader at the flagpole who knows the other guy can't fight, tells Snow, "I'm standing right here, you -------------. Let's go."
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="163" caption="(After the preseason game when DiPietro and Montoya fought, Avery tried to start a fight with Garth Snow)"]sleep 5[/caption]
Shanahan, exasperated because he thought his baby-sitting duties were over for the night, orders Avery to leave the Coliseum immediately. Avery screams a few more inane insults, turns around and leaves.
A Rangers player later tells me, "Welcome to our world."
Two things shocked me about the incident. I knew Avery was off-center, but always figured the sideshow routine was just a role he played at the rink and for the cameras. During this confrontation, the media were gone from the hallway and there was no one around to entertain. The look in Avery's eyes told me there was a whole lot more going on with this man.
But what surprised me more at the time was the Rangers' reaction. As I've written, the NHL is a league where the teams take the mantra of you're-on-our-side-or-you're-not to cult-like levels. When Rangers higher-ups went out of their way to find Snow and apologize for Avery's behavior, you realized how seriously out-of-control he must have been for a while. One VIP with the Rangers approached Snow, shook his hand, asked for his understanding and said, "Now you know what I deal with every day."
When Gary Bettman said on Friday that Avery had been repeatedly warned by the NHL that he was close to "crossing the line," this may have been one of the precedents. Maybe the commisioner was also referring to Avery's habit of skating by the Islanders bench and taunting Ted Nolan with profane insults about his First Nations ancestry.
The difference between insulting an ex-girlfriend and making racist remarks about the First Nations community to an opposing coach? A TSN camera, I guess. Either way, the incidents with Snow and Nolan may explain in part the 6-game suspension and why - if Avery is not healed of whatever may ail him - the next one will be a lot longer.
ETC: When the Islanders' charter left Farmingdale this afternoon, it carried the same squad that played in last night's home loss to Atlanta. It appears there will be no roster moves prior to the game Monday night in Toronto.
Reaction to this story in Comments. The discussion about last night's Islanders loss and the upcoming road trip continues in the previous thread.