It’s a fact that whenever Sean Avery is made a part of a story the story takes on a life of its own. That’s part of the price when you’re a player as widely disliked as Avery is. When Alexander Frolov, a former teammate of Avery’s in Los Angeles and New York with the Rangers, had a chance to speak with Russian website sports.ru about him, one of his stories is a bit startling.
Frolov, who will be playing in the KHL next season, was asked by sports.ru about what it was like to play alongside Avery. With Avery being such a polarizing and controversial figure in the NHL, it only makes sense to ask what it’s like to play with someone like that.
Slava Malmud of sport-express.ru translates the Q&A portion of the interview with Frolov to give us his startling words.
Q: You have played with Avery for the Kings and Rangers and once called him your friend.
AF: Yes, we are friends and we still communicate. Just not as often, since we live on different continents now.
Q: Why does everyone hate him?
AF: It’s not hate, it’s… He has a specific role, he is a pretty unique man and he likes to do, let’s say, extravagant things. Sometimes they’d be bordering on the forbidden. He isn’t a fool. Lately he has become calmer, smarter. Before he’d get swept away with emotions and do something stupid. To mention each and every one of his stunts… Something always happens around him, it’s a part of his job. He needs to be talked about. He loves it, he feels at home in the spotlight. Sometimes he called opponents “black monkeys.” He did a lot of things, I can’t remember all of them.
All right, that’s a huge bomb to drop after you’ve left town, but Frolov is speaking frankly about a guy who is his friend and a guy who he’s seen go from being a wild hellion on the ice in Los Angeles to a (slightly) more reserved and peaceable activist and fashion conscious guy in New York. We’re almost positive that everyone will blow these quotes out of proportion, but there is a point in history where an allegation was made against Avery for saying as much to a player.
Back in 2005 when Avery was with the Kings, then Edmonton Oilers enforcer Georges Laraque accused Avery of calling him a “monkey” to incite him into action. Avery, in true style for how he was in his more out of control days, said that Laraque made the whole thing up.
“(He) fabricated the whole thing,” Avery said in Friday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times.
“I have no idea why he would do that,” he added. “I heard about it after the game and was surprised.”
Laraque, who is black, alleged Avery made a racial remark during Edmonton’s 3-1 loss. Laraque said that when he went to challenge Avery to a fight after the Kings agitator got tangled up with Oilers finesse player Ales Hemsky, Avery declined to fight and called Laraque “a monkey.”
Since Avery’s days in Los Angeles that saw him get so out of control he racked up north of 250 penalty minutes in back-to-back seasons, he’s gotten counseling for his temper and his attitude to make him be a better person both on and off the ice. Avery’s work in New York State to help get marriage equality passed has earned him kudos from a wide range of fans both hockey and in life. This story and these quotes from Frolov won’t do him any favors, but we’d have to hope that this sort of hateful nonsense is all in his past.
The role of a pest on the ice is always to push the boundaries of good taste and even ethics in order to goad your opponents into taking a bad penalty that could hurt their team. In Avery’s past, he may or may not have done things that would make anyone in their right mind think poorly of him. He may still do it now. Who knows?
The fact is, we haven’t heard of anything from Avery relating to such hateful things in years and Frolov sharing his story so flippantly means that it’s all in the past. That’s not to excuse him for doing these things back then, but before you form the line to protest the man, just know that everyone changes and sometimes it’s for the better.
Avery is a different guy now. He’s just as good at getting under an opponent’s skin as he ever has been, but there’s a difference in how he goes about it now as opposed to six or seven years ago when there was more malice to his work. It’s not to say that he’s a Zen master now, but his speckled past coming back to bite him now seems a bit much.