Minutes away from the puck drop here at the former Hartford Civic Center. Sean Avery will play for the first time since he was suspended for remarks he made on Dec. 2.
Based on warmups, it looks like he's skating with center Greg Moore and Tomas Zaborsky, though his teammates thought he might play on Artem Anisimov's top line with P.A. Parenteau. We're told we'll have a chance to talk to Avery after the game. I greeted him briefly outside the Wolf Pack dressing room, shook his hand, wished him luck. Teammate Dale Weise said Avery has done a great job of blending into the dressing room, telling his teammates he doesn't want the attention. Weise also said Avery has taken to giving some of the younger players tips and advice on tactical on-ice stuff.
They don't do time on ice in the AHL but we'll try to keep track of how many shifts Avery skates and with who. I'll post updates if anything noteworthy happens and then after the game.
By the way, driving up to Hartford this afternoon, yet another example of how marginalized the Islanders are. I couldn't get the Islanders game against the Flyers on the radio, yet I could get a broadcast of the Passaic County boys basketball tournament.
Finally, let me just repeat, I'm pumped to be covering a game including the Manitoba Moose, just because I love the name. And, yes, I have a Nigel Dawes bobblehead doll in hand. Can't wait to show it to him. And then have him fling it back at me.
UPDATE, 3:29 First period: Avery's first shift lasted 1:05, starting at 1:33 and going to 2:38. He started with Anisimov and Parenteau and it switched to Moore and Zaborsky. He gave a solid shoulder check to Mantioba's Shaun Heshka.
UPDATE, 4:39 First period: Avery started his second shift skating into the Moose's end to join Parenteau and Anisimov. He went behind the goal line and there was contact with Manitoba's Nathan McIver, leading to pushing and shoving between Avery and McIver. Before Avery could fight, Hartford's Jared Nightingale jumped in and those two dropped the gloves.
UPDATE, 17:27 First period: On his seventh shift, Avery makes a great between the legs pass to Parenteau cutting to the left post. Manitoba goalie Karl Goehring makes a pad save there.
AFTER FIRST PERIOD: Avery took one shot and played seven shifts in the first period for approximately five minutes (AHL doesn't keep time on ice so we're attempting to do it ourselves), including 53 seconds on the power play at the end of the period. He split his time between Anisimov-Parenteau and Moore-Zaborsky, though he was also out for one shift with Patrick Rissmiller (remember him?) and Dale Weise.
UPDATE, 2:19 Second period: Avery's first shift of the second period was 54 seconds on the penalty kill.
UPDATE, 7:12 Second period: Avery's third shift of the period is also on the penalty kill, this one for 33 seconds.
UPDATE, 11:40 Second period: On his fourth shift, Avery again nearly gets an assist, finding Dale Weise cutting through the slot to the net from the left corner.
UPDATE, 13:53 Second period: Avery's fifth shift of the period, again on the penalty kill, ends with him on the ice as Alexandre Bolduc scores on the power play for a 2-0 Manitoba lead. Still, Avery's PK performance backs up what Dale Weise said before the game when he described how helpful Avery has been in instructing the younger Wolf Pack players. On the PK, you could definitely see Avery directing his teammates on positioning and, skating up ice, letting D Michael Sauer know what could have been done better on an up-ice rush.
UPDATE, 17:34 Second period: Avery joins scrum behind Manitoba goal after a shot on Moose goalie Karl Goehring after a whistle for offsides. Avery winds up pushing and shoving, then jawing but nothing out of control.
AFTER SECOND PERIOD: Six shifts for just under six minutes for Avery. That includes four turns on the penalty kill, something he did not do with the Rangers last season.
UPDATE, 1:21 Third period: Wicked wrist shot from Avery in the left faceoff circle, smothered by Manitoba goalie Karl Goehring.
UPDATE, 9:11 Third period: Attendance here at the former Civic Center is 5,899, probably double what it would be normally.
UPDATE, 18:40 Third period: Game should be over, Moose go up 3-1. Will check back later with a summary of Avery's comments.
POST-GAME COMMENTS: Avery played 18 shifts with an approximate ice time of 16 minutes. That included four penalty kills and one power play. He took three shots. My impression: He's just on a different level as a hockey player than those who play in the AHL. His puck handling was terrific, his passing was good and he looked good on that wrist shot in the third period. Once he gets a few games under his belt, there's no reason he shouldn't be playing in the NHL. And, as you'll see below, he believes he can still be the Grate One.
On the game: "I felt good. Actually, I felt better than expected. My legs felt good. It was a different game. The hardest part was getting adjusted to the speed. Mentally and physically I felt good.
On his pre-game emotions: "Yeah, I was a little nervous. It's been a long time since I played in this league. It's been a long time since I played. The biggest thing was it felt good to be playing."
On the trash-talking during the game: "A couple of guys said something. Such as? Nothing that I'd probably repeat. It was typical guy stuff, nothing that got me going. Some of the older guys (Mike Keane, Jason Krog, both ex-Rangers) said good look with everything."
On whether he expects younger players to try to make a name for themselves by coming after him: "Certainly, you're going to expect that. Because that's what I'd do. If you're trying to make a name for yourself and get to the next level, what better way."
On whether he can still be an agitator on ice if he's a different (calmer) person off the ice: "Even if it's a little different, it's still a lot. I'm just happy I was out there. It's fun to be a team atmosphere."
On whether he heard the fans chanting his name: "I didn't really hear everything. There was an eerie calmness when I got out there."
On what's next for him: "We have an off day tomorrow and practice Monday."
On his conditioning: "I was always a guy in good shape. It's not an issue."
On when/whether he'll be back in the NHL: "I think that's where I belong and that's what type of player I am."
On what hurts the most (the questioner obviously meant on his person, but Avery joked) "Breaking up with an ex-girlfriend."