In the first period of the New York Rangers game on March 24, Sean Avery, a left wing, repeatedly punched an opponent in the skull. An hour later, Avery stood in a locker room at Madison Square Garden discussing men’s fashion.
“I admire well-dressed men no matter where they are — a guy in a police uniform that has it pulled together nicely or a doctor in his scrubs,” he said, a nasty scratch bleeding on his chin. “I like that identity of having a presence. I think that’s what it is. It states your presence.”
Avery is an unusual presence himself. A charmer off the ice with a fashion sense even sharper, perhaps, than David Beckham’s, he worked as an intern at Vogue last summer, counts the designer Vera Wang and the actor Tim Robbins as friends — and has twice led the National Hockey League in penalty minutes.
He has a reputation as a talented player, but one despised by many others in the league. He has a dangerously unpredictable mouth — and impeccable taste in Dries Van Noten suits.
The NHL suspended Avery in December for crudely insulting two rival players who were dating ex-girlfriends of his, one an actress, the other a supermodel. His own team, the Dallas Stars, refused to take him back. Last month, he landed with the Rangers, the gang he had left before going to Dallas as a free agent.
Whether his act — on-ice and off — plays better now that he has returned to the lights of Manhattan depends on which Sean Avery emerges: the fashion-fascinated dandy who is wildly popular with fans and is a partner in a restaurant and bar set to open in TriBeCa; or the hothead who has often bitten the hand that pays his US$4-million-a-year salary.
“It’s like that little devil on your shoulder,” Avery said during an autograph signing event. “I have to keep him under control.”
Note that he did not say he had to keep the devil completely in check. The demon in Sean Avery can be useful. Take his fight last month with Cal Clutterbuck of the Minnesota Wild. It earned each player a five-minute penalty, but Avery said later that he had planned the whole thing, calculating that he could give his team a spark by engaging in his first fight in front of the home crowd. The Rangers won the contest, 2-1.
During his suspension, Avery checked himself into a residential program in Los Angeles for two weeks of anger management therapy. Friends say he emerged calmer and more focused.
“He does meditations,” said Lauryn Flynn, the head of VIP services for Burberry. “He has become a little more Zen in his thinking.”
Avery has a lot to overcome. During his career, he has called a Los Angeles Kings coach “a clown,” a broadcaster “an embarrassment” and an opposing player “an arrogant little midget.” In a 2007 Hockey News poll of NHL players, he was voted “most hated.”
When he was traded by the Kings to the Rangers in 2007, New York seemed just what he had always needed: He thrived under the pressure of playing here. His brawling style fit the mood of New York hockey fans, and his fashion sense began attracting new ones.
“He’s knowledgeable,” said the designer Narciso Rodriguez, who met Avery last summer. “He follows fashion. He knows who the designers are, who are the good ones he likes.”
His interest in fashion, both men’s and women’s, appears to be genuine, not just a bid for attention or a way to meet models. He reads about fashion voraciously, said Flynn. “He’s read biographies of Lagerfeld, every possible thing you can get on Coco Chanel.”