Sometimes you don't know a lot about players in the NHL if they ain't one of the superstars on the league's highlight reels. But no matter what team you like, or where you live (unless it's under an old pilsner carton with no TV), you know who Sean Avery is. The 90 goals, 247 points, and over 1,500 penalty minutes made for a fucking solid NHL career, but what made the guy a real gem was his ability to fuck with the other team's stars, to get into their heads and kill their game. Hell, they had to invent The Avery Rule after he drove Martin Brodeur insane, when he was screening the guy like a fucking rodeo clown with his back to the puck for 60 seconds. He scored later, the Rangers won that series, and when asked about Brodeur ignoring him in the postgame handshake line he goes, "Fatso forgot to shake my hand." What a beauty (or if you're a Devils fan, what an asshole).
You want to talk about the "intangibles" it takes to win? Having an unhinged lunatic who's willing to go through a wall for his team is a player who can skate on my team any day. Avery, of course, had plenty of controversies during his career—from Brodeur to his "sloppy seconds" comment that landed him a suspension, to an alleged racial slur directed at Georges Laraque (which Avery denied)—but he was also a progressive player in many respects, going on record to voice his support for marriage equality and ending homophobia in sports.
In a league that's more conservative than your aunt Margaret's undershorts, Avery was one of the sport's most polarizing figures and talked shit like no other—and I got to talk to him about his career, his new book, and his filthy mouth.
Deaner: Hey man, what you been up to?
Sean Avery: I had an audition for Quantico, undercover FBI agent in a white supremacist group.
Oh sweet, you’re an actor now?
I just got an agent three weeks ago.
You ever do commercials?
The only one I'd want to do is commercials for Cialis. I don't know why some athlete hasn't done this. Because at least 40 percent of all professional athletes take Cialis. So I don't know what the fuck they're hiding from.
I gotta say, the pic you used on the cover of your book, I mean Jesus buddy, you can see your pubes...
I guess that was part of the reason to use that picture, because everyone in the sports world will be like, "Oh my God, look at this homo, what a homo."
So you did it to provoke people, like you did on the ice?
What's the point, if that's going to be your identity, isn't it supposed to work? I never understood what's going on in some guy's mind, when they would call me a "faggot" on the ice, [but] I know they were on the plane earlier that day, flipping through a magazine reading about my latest conquest with a woman—they know it's not true. Maybe they think that because I have gay friends? I could never figure it out.
(We started talking about the NHL having no time for troublemakers, and I asked him about the PK Subban trade)
No question did I think that there was fear from management, but probably more so from his teammates. Everybody was scared that PK was becoming too big for the Montreal Canadiens. Why else would you trade him? All the stuff he was doing for the city, it's clear. I think that on teams that aren't like the 2002 Detroit Red Wings, where the entire dressing room is secure with themselves and their career, pretty much every other situation there's animosity on teams when there are players taking the spotlight. I'm talking about players that aren't on the NHL top five marketing list. Players get afraid of it. So when they get called in [by the GM] for a meeting, they say, "I think he's a distraction, he's taking away from the team." But man, if PK Subban distracts you from doing your job, then how good are you at doing your job? Your job is entertainment business, you can't focus on your own game because of PK Subban? C'mon. That's what happened.
What's the magic combination to build a deadly team?
You need a rough-around-the-edges Darren McCarty type, that everyone had to be big brother to, because you never knew when the wheels were gonna come off and it's like, "Where’s Mac?" and you haven't seen him for four days. But that wasn't something that the team looked down upon, because they knew that he was an integral part of the DNA of that team. It was part of the leadership, everybody knew they had to take care of Mac.
Then there's the consummate pro like Stevie [Yzerman], who never said anything, he could just lead a dressing room with his eyes. He was just such a commanding presence. Stevie didn't think I was toxic for the room, he appreciated that I brought a bit of passion to the dressing room. They also knew that Dominic Hasek was nuts. They tiptoed around how crazy he was because you knew that when the puck dropped, the guy was going to be the best goaltender in the league. You need a goalie who is as out there as can be, because it means he's really good at what he does. It's just how it works. The guys that are successful at building teams, they embrace the mix of personalities, and insecure GMs don't have the courage to make those decisions because if it doesn't work, they don’t have the confidence to handle the backlash of people saying, "You have too many personalities on your team." It's safer to have it not work, but have a room full of hockey men. It's safer for your own personal job. And it's weird because Marc Bergevin is the ultimate personality—legendary stories about that guy, the ultimate class clown, loved to burn the candle at both ends, he was the original guy who would drop his towel in the middle of a postgame TV interview. That was Bergie. That whole Montreal thing must have come from a higher place, I personally believe. Mixed with that he was still new on the job, and not as confident making that decision.
What kind of money were you making at the start?
I was making $340,000, $420,000 and then $440,000 in my first three years. I mean bloggers make more than that.
Is there a difference in the locker room between like the super rich players and the other guys?
Hockey players are pretty humble, they mostly look and act the same. Honestly you know how you can tell who makes the most money on the team? By the wives, and how they sit in the wives' room. You can tell by what wives are sitting with who. Because the rich wives sit together, and the poor wives sit together.
What's the wives' room?
There's always a room where they can go before the game and have a glass of wine, and the kids can play and they go there in between periods. And then after the game that's where they wait until the players come out of the dressing room.
Oh OK, like, the wive hive?
[laughs] Yeah, the wive hive, that's good. But it's called the Wives' Room. They actually put a sign on the door that says, "Wives' Room."
But aren't there tons of like, hockey sidepieces and girlfriends too? Where do they fit in?
Well, they're not actually allowed in that room. The wives have made the rule, and they enforce it on the players. And guys are just like, "That's not a battle that I really care about." So if you're not a girlfriend—girlfriend meaning that you've put a few months into the bank—you're not allowed into that room. But after a few months, a new girlfriend gets eased in. But she's not walking up to the table where the captain, and the goalie's wife, and the all-star defencemen's wife are sitting. I'm dead serious. You have to work your way up.
How do you do that?
The acceptance is once one of the other wives invites the new girlfriend to the team food drive, or one of the events where the wives are at, and they're all wearing their husband's jerseys, THEN they get accepted into the group.
I get it, so after you've been jerseyed, you're welcome in the wive hive?
[laughs] Yeah, that's it.
Are there any religious guys in hockey, like you see in other sports like baseball?
No, I never heard of the Christian thing. I knew that Mike Fisher was a hardcore Christian, and honestly I think that it's not something that gets publicized. Guys aren't super comfortable to make that a known thing. Like, you're in an environment where every second word is an F-bomb, or when a guy wears a funny tie to the rink he's getting called a "fag" by like, 10 guys, so the whole Christian thing, you'd stand out. You certainly can't raise your hand and say, "Guys, I can't have you speaking like that."
Did you ever go after Mike Fisher for being Christian?
No, I just didn't go there. A guy believes in a certain set of stories... good for him.
What are the extremes you'd go to get a rise out of someone?
I'd go anywhere other than a guy's mother, father, sister, and brother. Anything else was on the table.
Did you ever say anything that you were like, "Oh shit I stepped over the line"?
No, because I put thought into everything I was saying. I never went into a situation where I didn't do a little bit of research. Because otherwise you get into this classic hockey argument that you see and hear all the time that's like:
"Fuck you, man."
"No, fuck you, man."
"No, FUCK you, man."
"No, you know what? Fuck YOU, man!!"
I don't know, I just saw these things and was like, "Wow these guys are really going for it. Great delivery on the fourth fuck you."
How smart are you?
I would say I rank higher in intelligence than the average NHL player, but I'm not winning in the education department. I'm winning because I travelled, and I asked a lot of questions. I also had a lot of friends who weren't hockey players.
In the book you talk about art. Like, what's that about?
I have a very well-rounded art collection. I have a Genieve Figgis painting. She's kind of like the next Richard Prince—super talented. One of my closest friends is a guy named Tom Sachs, who is one of the most talented art makers in the world right now that's still alive. I also bought a Wes Lang piece before he did the whole Kanye thing.
I don't know who any of those people are.
Those are worth quite a bit of money now.
Oh Cool. Do you have to get extra security?
I have a doorman. It'd be tough. I hear of the fire escape burglars, but...
But you could still take 'em right. You still got a six pack?
It's the one thing I haven't let myself enjoy is getting fat. I just haven't had the stomach to do it.
OOOOH! Alright, last one—any stories that didn't make the book?
One time I saw Rob Ford on the subway. What was he doing on the subway? I think about that now. The [former] mayor of NYC, [Michael] Bloomberg, rode the subway with like six security guards, but Rob Ford was alone. Where was he going? We'll never know. Rest in peace, Rob Ford.