I was an active member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association covering the New York Rangers during Sean Avery’s two highly entertaining and eventful tours of duty with the Blueshirts. I got to know Sean and talk to him during that time, strictly within the bounds of reporter interviewing subject, never on a personal level. Taking a slightly different tack than most beat writers, my focus was more on the X’s and O’s of the game than the “tell us about…” or “how do you feel about…” or “what do you need to do…” angles that are more common.
With Sean Avery, my approach still had less to do with how he played the game so successfully than with how he motivated himself to play the way he did — unorthodox, feisty, trashy, hateful, nasty, iconoclastic, defiant, and yet still able to generate positive hockey plays while driving opponents batty. Of course, wanting to be entertaining as well as informative in my own writing, my reporting on Sean’s escapades in my monthly “Sean Avery Show” recap column traded on his various and sundry antics on and off the ice.
Ice Capades is Sean’s memoir of his entire hockey career from his breakthrough with the Detroit Red Wings, his growth with the L.A. Kings, his stellar turn with the Rangers, and his year in hell in Dallas. His motivation takes center stage as he explains (including many juicy examples) how he used that relentless drive to shape the villainous on-ice character who could kill you with a surprisingly well researched bon mot, a not so subtle jab to a vulnerable body part, or a timely goal. Whether you believe Sean when he insists (numerous times) that he was only playing a carefully crafted character on the ice will depend on what you thought of him at the time. If you loved him, you’ll buy his rationalizations. If you hated him, well, you probably will not read this review or consider buying his book, so it goes without saying you’ll disbelieve him.
I’m in the middle. For one thing, he did tell me on at least two occasions that his shenanigans fired him up and made him play harder and better, as opposed to just trying to throw his opponents off their game. He was motivated from the start (which goes back to age 8, he tells us repeatedly) to make up for his physical shortcomings (lack of height and size) by devoting himself slavishly to working as hard as he could and finding ways to win, no matter how much collateral damage that might cause. Yet he reminds us over and over that winning was his route to achieving his personal goals. As he tells his stories, it becomes difficult to distinguish his priority — was it winning per se, or winning as a means of elevating himself in hockey and in life? These are not mutually exclusive objectives, but with Sean it remains difficult in the end to reconcile the two.
Sean spends much of the early sections of the book on this subject. But that’s not really why you’re here. You want to know what he said to Marty Brodeur to make him go postal during a critical game, why he said what he did about Elisha Cuthbert to get suspended and sent to rehab, how his relationship with his second Ranger coach John Tortorella grew so toxic that Sean comes close to accusing him of homicide. You want to know what Sean thought about everyone under the sun. And you want to know what was really going on off the ice with these guys.
And he will tell you.
The partying is unexpected, to be honest. I thought we’d reached the point in professional sports where the level of competition for major league jobs is so intense, so highly crowded with elite players, that maximizing your performance with a clean off-ice life-style that protects your body is more important than it apparently is in real life. Silly me.
Most shocking is the vitriol Sean has for Tortorella. That is already getting most of the press in the hockey world in advance of the publication of this book. I liked Sean, I despised Tortorella, I quit covering the Rangers precisely because of Tortorella, so you know which side I’m on. Even so, I never imagined it could be this bad. But based on what I know from my own interactions with Tortorella, I find myself with no skepticism at all on this topic, as I do with some of Sean’s other protestations and rationalizations.
I read an uncorrected proof of the book provided by NetGalley. I hope the authors and editors have since made the thousands of necessary corrections to make this book readable. What I saw was so amateurishly written that it distracted from the subject matter. The worst style crime is the mixing of tenses. Sean talks about the past in the present tense, which is fine. Except that a) since he is talking about his present day feelings about those events concurrently, it is often difficult to tell whether he’s referring to now or then, and b) he often lapses back into the past tense, even within the same sentence, even multiple times within the same sentence and the same paragraph. It’s tough sledding.
I don’t want to come off as a prescriptivist, especially in reviewing a non-professional writer (just as I hope Sean would do in critiquing my seriously deficient hockey technique), but he has a co-writer who is a professional (Michael McKinley) and there are professional editors at Blue Rider Press and Penguin working on this book. I know they want to preserve Sean’s voice, but often these rules are in place to remove precisely this kind of ambiguity, to help the reader better understand the material. Trust me, Sean’s voice will not be squelched if you clean up his mixed tenses. In fact, we will get to hear his actual voice speaking these words in the audio edition, which I for one intend to listen to.
But again, you’re not here for stellar wordcraft. You want dish. You will not be disappointed.