Sean Avery’s new book “Ice Capades: A Memoir Of Fast Living And Tough Hockey” was a must-read the moment it was announced, and it’s every bit the scathing, funny, frequently infuriating celebration of all things Sean Avery as anticipated.
It follows his NHL journey from the Detroit Red Wings to the Los Angeles Kings to the New York Rangers to the fiasco with the Dallas Stars through his eventual return to and retirement from the Rangers. It covers all the greatest hockey hits: ‘Sloppy Seconds’ and his NHL suspension, the Avery Rule, his on-ice role as a pest. It also details his relationships with Rachel Hunter, Elisha Cuthbert, and now-wife Hilary Rhoda, his journeys behind velvet ropes in New York clubs and that VOGUE internship.
It’s the first hockey-adjacent memoir that manages to line up a 580-game NHL career next to an acid trip at a Phish show and a make-out session with Scarlett Johansson. Sean Avery The Book is Sean Avery The Player: Introspective and self-aggrandizing, illuminating and at times repulsive, but rarely tedious.
It’s a candid and controversial one-sided conversation. Which is fine when so much of that conversation is putting John Tortorella on blast.
Avery savages the current Columbus Blue Jackets coach and 2017 Jack Adams Award winner, who coached Avery with the New York Rangers from 2008-12.
On respect for John Tortorella:
“Tortorella has a reputation as a hard-ass, but not if you know him as a player. We used to laugh at him all the time. There was always someone in the dressing room who wanted to take their skate and decapitate him or take their stick and whack him over the head with it. Marion Gaborik despised him with every bone in his body. Even Hank Lundqvist, an even-keeled Swede who was usually in his own world, thought Tortorella was a terrible manager of pro athletes. And he can’t skate and stickhandle a puck at the same time, and he doesn’t realize we don’t take him seriously because of that.”
As far as Tortorella’s volatile relationship with the media goes, Avery writes: “The funny thing is that Tortorella can skate just about as well as some of our beat writers.”
Avery writes on a conflict he had with Tortorella about investing in a second New York bar (“Tiny’s”). The coach claimed that a slumping Henrik Lundqvist was distracted by being an investor in the venture, a claim that Avery … well, didn’t agree with, especially when Tortorella suggested that Lundqvist pull out of the investment:
“I’ve never walked out of a meeting with my head coach, but if I didn’t leave the room I was going to end up in Rikers for choking this little shithead within an inch of his miserable life. If he really believed that Henrik was playing poorly because of Tiny’s, then he knew nothing about his star player. Lundqvist was not working at Tiny’s, he was investing in it. Players have slumps. Anyone who knows how to coach professional athletes would know how to deal with that.”
“I told [Rangers GM] Glen Sather about it, but he had nothing to say, really. He kept a poker face and wasn’t going to play his hand, but all he had to do was watch a game – he didn’t have to live through playing for a coach who responded to something he didn’t like on the ice by kicking water bottles or throwing shit on the bench or tugging on a player’s jersey and screaming at him and ripping him a new asshole.”
Avery doesn’t spare Tortorella’s right-hand man during those years: Current Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who has won two straight Stanley Cups. From Avery, after the 2009-10 season:
“None of us can stand listening to the mental midget and his big goofy sidekick, Mike Sullivan. Tortorella is a power-hungry control freak but he’s not smart enough to hire a good cop, even one he could play like a violin. If Mike Sullivan had played the good cop, he could still have turned around after meeting with a disgruntled player and told his puppet-master JT the details while giving the players some form of relief. Instead, they’re only able to bitch and vent to each other. This creates an unhealthy locker room.”
Avery also writes about his late friend Derek Boogaard, the enforcer’s addiction to painkillers and makes some incendiary claims about his time with the Rangers with that addiction.
“Derek had an addiction to painkillers. The NHL knew about it, and Tortorella probably knew it, too. If he did, he sure didn’t seem to care,” he writes.
As Avery writes, a team rule change when the two played together in New York meant that injured players had to get medical treatment for an injury and do conditioning work before the healthy players practiced as a team. So the Rangers would see Boogaard, who suffered another concussion in the 2010-11 season, leave the rink as they arrived. This mattered to Avery, who stayed in touch with Boogaard away from the rink, but according to him it meant nothing to their coach.
“It seemed to me that Tortorella was trying to make life as difficult as he could for Boogey,” Avery writes. “Tortorella could give two shits about players who can’t help him win, whereas great coaches protect their players as long as their names are on the team’s roster.”
“I reached my breaking point with how Tortorella was treating Boogaard, and spoke to many people about it,” he writes. “We hated it, and felt guilty that we could not stop the torment of Boogaard, but we played on, more for ourselves than for that lunatic running the show.”
But it was after Boogaard’s death in May 2011 – after having left the Rangers in March for rehab in California – that Tortorella hit Avery’s final nerve.
The entire Rangers team, thanks to a phone call from Avery, had permission from GM Glen Sather to attend the funeral in Regina. But Avery was informed by the team’s public relations department that Tortorella was not going to attend it.
From Avery on Derek Boogaard’s funeral:
“I was sick to my stomach and [wife Hilary Rhoda] was there to console me and give me support, which helped stop me from doing something that could have landed me in prison. I have never felt more hatred toward someone in my life than I felt toward Tortorella at that moment. It was more of a shock than when I heard Derek had died.
“… Tortorella’s stated reason for missing the funeral was an inability to fly because of recent hip surgery. I can promise you right now that if I had been Tortorella and the doctors had told me not to fly, I would have taken a bus (which Mr. Dolan would have surely paid for) with whatever physiotherapist needed to make the trip to Regina – a thirty-hour drive from New York City. A coach not attending his player’s funeral is unheard of. But maybe it’s just as well he wasn’t there, since in my opinion the appalling manner in which he’d treated Derek after he was injured had been a factor in Derek’s decline and death.”
Like we said: Avery is an acquired taste. The book’s an entertaining read, albeit one where the author clearly states he was “playing a character” during his NHL career. One can’t shake that notion about the narrator during some of these tales, and his selection of which stories to tell and how to tell them.
(Note: These passages are from an uncorrected proof of the book.)