DALLAS — Of all the cajoling, snide remarks and other stunts Sean Avery pulled on the way to becoming the biggest pest in hockey, never had he gone so far that the NHL suspended him _ until Tuesday.
Avery was punished indefinitely by commissioner Gary Bettman for using a crude term about his former girlfriends now dating other hockey players. Bettman acted within hours, in time to keep Avery out of the Dallas Stars' game against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night.
Avery's inflammatory line came following a morning skate in Calgary, Alberta. Reporters were waiting to speak with Avery about disparaging remarks he'd made last month about Flames star Jarome Iginla when Avery walked over to the group and asked if there was a camera present. When told there was, he said, "I'm just going to say one thing."
"I'm really happy to be back in Calgary; I love Canada," he 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 (former girlfriends). I don't know what that's about, but enjoy the game tonight." He then walked out of the locker room.
Avery's ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert of the television show "24" and the movie "Old School," is dating Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf; she had been romantically linked to Mike Komisarek of the Montreal Canadiens. Avery also dated Rachel Hunter, the former Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model and actress who is now the girlfriend of Los Angeles Kings center Jarrett Stoll.
Bettman said Avery made "inappropriate public comments, not pertaining to the game." The two will meet before the length of the suspension is determined. That get-together is likely to happen soon.
"I completely support the league's decision to suspend Sean Avery," Stars owner Tom Hicks said in a statement. "Had the league not have suspended him, the Dallas Stars would have. This organization will not tolerate such behavior, especially from a member of our hockey team. We hold our team to a higher standard and will continue to do so."
Avery is the kind of player who delights in doing or saying something to get under the skin of opponents and their fans. He's led the league in penalty minutes twice, and was doing so again going into Tuesday. He's not only often called the most hated player in the NHL, he loves hearing it.
"I like to push it to the edge, no doubt about it," Avery said this summer, after signing a $15.5 million, four-year deal with the Stars. "That's how I play. That's how I live. That's what I'm all about."
His most infamous tactic came during last season's playoffs, while with the New York Rangers, when he stood in front of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, waving his hand and stick in the goalie's face to block his view. The next day, the league put in the so-called "Avery Rule" to prohibit such shenanigans.
Avery has been fined by the league and was once suspended by the Los Angeles Kings. Other players have been suspended for retaliating against Avery, including Chicago's Ben Eager getting a three-game suspension for swinging his stick at Avery. However, this is the first time in his seven-year career that the NHL has taken him off the ice.
"Maybe they decided that this one crossed the line further than all the others," said Stars co-general manager Brett Hull, who played with Avery in Detroit several years ago and was a driving force signing him.
"More than anything, he's let his teammates down. That's the worst part of it," Hull said. "It's basically a fundamental _ you don't embarrass the team and you carry yourself with class and good character. I've told him before, there's more to the game than just lacing up the skates. There are things you have to be accountable for."
Despite his tough-guy image in his job, Avery has cultivated another image in his private life: Fashionista. He's pursued his interest in the fashion world by interning with Vogue magazine. He's broken into pop culture through appearances on MTV and in tabloid gossip columns; he also grabbed a spot on People's "Sexiest Scars" list in 2007 for a gash on his lip.
The Stars signed him in hopes that his grittiness would boost last season's Western Conference finalists. Instead, the injury-riddled Stars went into Tuesday night's game with only 20 points, fewest in the Western Conference and near the bottom of the NHL. Avery had 77 penalty minutes in 23 games. He also had three goals and seven assists.
Avery and Iginla were to meet on the ice for the first time since Avery told ESPN "the NHL does a terrible job of marketing" by not promoting its "villains," and that "nobody cares about Jarome Iginla and guys like that, they're just not exciting enough."
The Stars and Flames meet three more times. Next is Feb. 3 in Dallas; the Stars return to Calgary on March 18.
Teammates were in the locker room when Avery spoke Tuesday, but didn't necessarily hear his interview. Told what he said, most were not surprised.
"We expect that out of him like we have all year," said goaltender Marty Turco, who was critical of Avery's agitation of Brodeur during the playoffs when it happened. "You know, the show continues."
Avery broke into the NHL in 2001-02 with Detroit. He was traded to the Kings during the following season, then was sent to the Rangers in 2007, with his arrival sparking a playoff run. Although he then matched his career best in goals with 15 in 2007-08, the Rangers didn't try bringing him back. His tenure ended with a lacerated spleen against Pittsburgh, which required a stay in intensive care.
Avery makes $3.5 million this season and $4 million each of the next three years. His Dallas contract also includes a limited no-trade clause.