The last time Sean Avery was getting paid to play ice hockey, it was 2012, and he had achieved a level of notoriety that had established him as one of hockey’s “bad boys.” After being dispatched to the American Hockey League’s Connecticut Whale by the New York Rangers and playing his last game on January 27, the then 31-year-old famously appeared on the Bravo network’s “Watch What Happens” in March, where he claimed he “threw [his] skates in the Hudson [River].”
The general consensus was that Sean Avery was done with hockey.
So what has changed in the past decade to seemingly bring the now 41-year-old Avery out of retirement, officially signing with the Orlando Solar Bears Wednesday morning?
In a word, fatherhood.
“Since then, I’m a dad, and I took my son Nash skating,” Avery said of his firstborn, Nash Hollis Avery, born on July 28, 2020. “So I had a pair of new skates, and I thought, ’I feel pretty good,’ so I got equipment, and I started skating, somehow I ended up in the great state of Florida and it’s a beautiful thing. These guys are being great, and they’re letting me see if I can get in shape and we’ll see what happens.”
Those moments of father-son bonding served as the impetus of Avery purchasing some new equipment and getting into some informal practices in California - where he splits time between his home in New York - and slowly but surely, the wheels started turning.
“I think having a son was like a big thing you know and then certainly that was at the beginning of quarantine - I’ve been in New York and California, which are two different states than Florida - we spent a year locked up,” Avery said. “Seeing [Nash] get older, putting him on skates, he came out to watch a skate [back home] during the week, it was pretty cool to see him and the look on his face, so I said, ‘You know what, why not?’ maybe he’ll get to see me play a game - you never know.”
Throughout a brief media scrum that followed practice, the veteran of over 700 professional games - 580 spent in the NHL with New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Detroit - consistently provided answers that suggest this is a day-by-day process. So how does he feel after getting in his first practice with his new team?
“I got on the ice today, and I just wanted to get through the day…and I did it,” a sweat-soaked Avery said with smile and a hint of accomplishment. “Now we’ll start tomorrow, and we’ll do the same thing, and every single day I think you’ll start to feel a little bit better and get a little jump in your in your step - I feel pretty good, so we’ll see.”
Avery fully acknowledges the pace and speed of the game has changed since he last played professionally; even at the ECHL level. He had done some preliminary research to know what he should expect.
“I’ve been watching some of the games on YouTube, some of the older games from a few months ago - any of these kids can play in the NHL, there’s no question about that, it’s just a question of how hard they wanna work,” Avery said. “Speed-wise, it’s quick. I think that’s the interesting thing, like feeling myself coming out of turns, getting those feet moving, like the quick crossovers - these guys are quick, they all can skate; they all can play.”
While Avery works on finding his legs, Solar Bears head coach and general manager Drake Berehowsky is comfortable in providing Avery with the time he needs until the next step in his journey - whatever it may be - comes more into focus. Avery will begin his time with the Solar Bears as part of Orlando’s two-man reserve list, a means by which ECHL teams are able to have healthy players continue to practice with their clubs without counting against the weekly salary cap imposed on each team.
“I just want to make sure he can keep up with the pace. It’s been a while since he’s played, and it’ll take him a bit to get used to it, and we’ll see what happens,” Berehowsky said. “If he can come and be the player he was, he’ll help us tremendously. I’m hoping he gets his legs under him and if it doesn’t take too long, he can come in and give us a hand.”
At one point, it was brought to Avery’s attention that the announcement of his signing had been garnering significant attention in the sports world, especially online.
“Wow. The internet’s blowing up? I like that, that’s OK,” Avery said with a chuckle, showing a glimmer of the personality much of the hockey world knew a decade ago.
In classic Sean Avery fashion, he offered a blunt guess when asked how some his former NHL peers, many of whom are also now enjoying retirement, might consider him following the news of this latest adventure.
“Crazy? I don’t care. I’ve never cared,” Avery said, before pausing. “My teammates? Listen, I just want to work hard, have fun with these guys and see what happens.”
Although Avery did add before finishing, “I said to Drake when I got here, I was like, ‘Give me a couple days and then you can tell me I’m nuts.’”
Don’t call it a comeback - at least not yet.