CALGARY — The National Hockey League suspended Dallas Stars’ forward Sean Avery indefinitely Tuesday, pending a hearing with commissioner Gary Bettman, for “conduct detrimental to the league or game of hockey.”
The suspension came as a result of a comment Avery directed towards the relationship between Calgary Flames’ defenceman Dion Phaneuf and actress Elisha Cuthbert, a former girlfriend of Avery’s. Avery made the comment, unsolicited, covering the morning skate prior to a Flames-Stars game.
The incident occurred as Avery emerged from the shower area at the back of the visitors’ dressing room. Avery began by asking if a TSN camera were present.
When he saw that it was, he stepped in front of the microphones, didn’t wait for a question to be asked and delivered the following extraordinary statement:
“I’m really happy to be back in Calgary; I love Canada,” Avery said. “I just want to comment on how it’s become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don’t know what that’s about, but enjoy the game tonight.”
And with that, Avery walked away.
It didn’t take much to connect the dots, however. Avery’s reference was to the fact that the Flames’ Phaneuf was now dating Cuthbert, who was also once romantically linked to the Montreal Canadiens’ Mike Komisarek. Previously, Avery was also involved with actress Rachel Hunter, now the girlfriend of former Edmonton Oilers’ centre Jarrett Stoll, who now plays for the Los Angeles Kings.
Officially, the league suspended him for “inappropriate public comments, not pertaining to the game.” The date for the hearing has as yet not been scheduled.
Dallas Stars owner Thomas Hicks not only supported the league’s decision but said the team would have suspended Avery for his remarks if the NHL hadn’t.
“This organization will not tolerate such behaviour, especially from a member of our hockey team,” he said in a statement.
“We hold our team to a higher standard and will continue to do so.”
Avery made his offensive remark after the Flames had dispersed from their morning skate, so Phaneuf was not available for comment, but it is unlikely he would have said anything anyway, given how he’s made his private life off limits to reporters.
Presumably, he also embarrassed his coach, Dave Tippett, who went to extraordinary lengths to defend Avery about 15 minutes before Avery shot off his mouth.
“He has a life off the ice,” Tippett said, “and you guys make that more of an issue than it is in our room. I think he’s been quiet around us. There have been a couple of instances where the media has blown things out of proportion and our players recognize that. We’re more interested in getting our group together to play well as a team.
“If you look at Sean’s play, his numbers are decent, probably not where he’d like to see them, but he’s been a player for us every game. He’s played banged up. He’s played hard for us. The distraction has been much overblown.”
One wonders if Tippett felt the same way after the league suspended him for the Flames’ game.
Stars’ goaltender Marty Turco, who was nearby when Avery delivered his brief manifesto, was shaking his head as the circle of reporters reconvened at his locker stall.
“Back again?” asked Turco, who said he didn’t actually hear Avery’s comment. When told Avery had basically thrown down the gauntlet to Phaneuf, Turco answered: “Well, hopefully he doesn’t back down.
“We expect that out of him, like we have all year — and it still continues.”
Turco said that he “liked to think” Avery wasn’t a distraction either.
“We’re all competitive enough and focused to get out there and do your job,” Turco said. “When it (the Avery circus) continues over time, things certainly can be (distracting).
“I don’t think overall that he’s been the one-or-only disappointment for our team. When you look at where we are, we’ve all got to tote the line and bear responsibility. When you’re trying to build up from the basement like we are, you need everybody focused.
“Hopefully, those words are echoed from his focus — and that he just wants to get out of hear and just get on the ice and be competitive.
“But it all remains to be seen.”
The Stars play the Flames in Calgary tonight and then meet the Oilers in Edmonton tomorrow.