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Avery adds grit to Stars' talented attack

by Mike G. Morreale

After his New York Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring, Sean Avery watched with renewed interest the six-game battle between the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals.

It was during that time when Avery began thinking, “What if?”

“I think if you threw me into the Dallas lineup in that series against Detroit, it definitely would have made a difference.” he said.

Stars fans are hoping the gritty Avery can do just that, after all Dallas has not beaten Detroit in four previous playoff series. Despite the fact the Wings have firmly entrenched themselves as the class of the NHL and the odds-on-favorite to become the first repeat champions since, well, Detroit in 1997 and ’98, the Stars feel they now have a blend of youth, experience and talent to challenge for the top spot as well.

Avery, 28, became a part of that mix when he agreed to a four-year contract with Dallas, his fourth team in six seasons, on July 2.

“I think you always work to help your team reach the top, and that includes getting guys to play their best and remain healthy,” Stars Co-General Manager Les Jackson said. “It’s a matter of taking the group of players we have and putting them in a situation where they can be complementary and produce. Our young guys came in and developed well last year. No disrespect to the other teams in our conference, but I feel we can compete with all of them.”

Avery is looking forward to joining forces with Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott, Brad Richards, Mike Modano, Mike Ribeiro and Marty Turco.

“I know I’ve had my battles with (Brenden) in the past, but the good thing about hockey players is the fact once you become teammates, that stuff is all forgotten,” Avery said. “It’ll be exciting to play on the same team, maybe even on the same line. You almost have more respect for the guys you’ve battled in the past, even a guy like Steve Ott, who I know I’ll enjoy playing with. It’ll probably bring my (penalty minutes) down a bit because it seems I always ended up fighting or scrapping with one of those guys. It’ll be tough for other teams to play against me, Brenden, Modano, Ribeiro and Richards and Ott. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Avery is optimistic his playoff experience will benefit the organization.

“I’ve proven myself in the playoffs and that’s the part of the season that I consider the most exciting time,” he said. “I feel I can bring a physical presence. Whether that’s a kick start or bringing something else to the table, I feel it’ll certainly help our chances against a team like Detroit or San Jose or Anaheim, or whoever we face in the playoffs.”

"I've proven myself in the playoffs and that’s the part of the season that I consider the most exciting time. I feel I can bring a physical presence."

-- Sean Avery

Avery admitted his relationship with Stars co-GM Brett Hull played a big part in his decision to sign with the club.

“This is a better team than the one I formerly played on so that’s a big attraction and very important to me because being able to win provides more opportunities,” Avery said. “The relationship I had with Brett and, now with his moving on to management and the faith he has in me that I can come in and help the team win, also played a big role.”

Avery and Hull have known each other since their days as teammates in Detroit from 2001-03. At the time, Avery was breaking into the league and Hull had just experienced a Stanley Cup championship with Dallas in 1999. Avery lived with Hull during his tenure in “Hockeytown.”

“(Brett) was my favorite player growing up and, then, 10 years later, I end up living with him,” Avery recalled. “I probably took on his persona a little bit and I don’t think I was really ready to do that. But as far as watching a guy play and being able to read the game, he was certainly beneficial.”

Avery finished with 15 goals and 33 points in 57 games for the Rangers last season. In eight playoff games, he had four goals and three assists. He was also the topic of week-long debate following Game 3 of New York’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Devils at the Garden. If you’ll recall, that’s when Avery planted himself in front of Vezina Trophy-winner Martin Brodeur and began waving his hands and stick in the goalie’s face while the Devils were defending a 5-on-3 that eventually resulted in a goal by Avery.

“When you put the jersey on, you represent the team and the city, and I certainly do cross the line at times, but it’s not out of anything other than wanting to win the game,” Avery said. “I think I’m coming to a team that’s happy to have me and expecting a lot out of me. I’m willing to take it to the next level and I think I proved what level I can take my game in New York. I'm actually a pretty mellow guy off the ice; laid-back. I think my on-ice persona is almost somewhat of a character. It would be too tough to live like that 24 hours a day. I’d be dead by now if that were the case.

“It’s a nice feeling knowing I could be in a situation where players will be together for a four or five-year span,” he said. “That’s what you want, to have an opportunity to win two or three Cups in a four or five-year period. Detroit is a perfect example. They’ve kept their nucleus together and brought in a few other guys and it has worked.”

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