Last night, I went to Madison Square Garden for the first time since I caught the circus there at age four, and one thing was immediately clear—Ranger fans love Sean Avery.
The crowd was barely awake until they called his name for the starting lineup and they gave up their first of many rousing cheers for him that night. The hated New Jersey Devils were in town, led by Avery's favorite foil Martin Brodeur, and the sellout crowd was looking for blood. They didn't get it, but it didn't really matter, because the game is definitely more interesting with the villain on the ice.
Of course, everyone who isn't a Ranger fan hates Sean Avery's guts. Almost immediately, you could see the frustration building among the Devils players. Several of them tried desperately to take shots at Avery throughout the game—including Brodeur, but that was mostly because he was standing on the goalie's leg pads during a first-period power play. Avery refused to take the bait, which of course frustrated them even more. He delivered a monster check on Johnny Oduya late in the game, but even after David Clarkson threw him to the ice—twice—he wouldn't drop his stick and gloves. I guess those anger management classes are working.
I understand that you can't really have a guy publicly insulting the virtue of famous female actresses, but it really is a shame the NHL wants to handcuff this guy and turn him into another anonymous NHL forward. The home crowd loves him, opposing crowds have a reason to show up and hate him, and he's a pretty good player. He's not the best, by any stretch, but he may be the best at what he does ... and he's certainly the most interesting player in the league. Outside of goalie Henrik Lundquist (who pitched an impressive shutout), no one else was getting chants and ovations from the home crowd last night. Avery makes every game he is in more fun—and he makes the Rangers better—so what's more important than that?