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Avery returns to the ice with the Rangers

by Keith Loria

"I think even a milder version of Sean Avery is still ... not that mild."
-- Sean Avery

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Sean Avery compared his first day of practice since returning to the New York Rangers as being "like Christmas morning, running down the stairs before you open all the presents."

"It certainly feels great, I'm very fortunate," Avery said. "I just feel like really grateful to be home and I'm going to try and make the best of this opportunity."

Avery played left wing on a line with Lauri Korpikoski and the since-traded Petr Prucha for much of the practice.

At one point during his practice, coach John Tortorella pulled Avery aside on the ice, looking very serious in their talk.

"I don't want to bombard him," Tortorella said. "He's a few days behind as far as the system we play and I just wanted to touch base with him today because it's been a little bit of a ride for him the last 24 hours. So I just went over some of our team concepts, so day of the game I won't have to do as much."

Before heading off the ice, Avery took five shots at Henrik Lundqvist in net, scoring on one and doing a face-plant on the ice after he couldn't deke him on the last shot.

The goalie was all smiles afterward as he talked about Avery.

"It was fun to see him again. I'm excited that he's back," Lundqvist said, adding that he's looking forward to dinner in Montreal that Avery has to buy him because he couldn't score twice during the drill. "I think he is well prepared for this. ... I think he will do just fine."

"There's no question that he's a really good hockey player," added captain Chris Drury. "He's a physical player and he's here to help us win."

Tortorella admitted that his new player was in game-ready condition, but that didn't mean that he was ready to anoint him to a spot in the lineup when his team takes on the Islanders on Thursday night.

"I only watched the guy for 40 minutes, so I don't have a whole bunch of answers," Tortorella said. "He seems OK. I'm not sure where it's all going to break out and where he fits in the lineup."

For his part, Avery said he's ready for whatever the coach has in store for him.

"Torts plays an up-tempo style and a lot of skating and a lot of movement and that's part of my game, so that's exciting for me," Avery said. "It took a couple of weeks to get things going. The guys in Hartford were great, some really good kids down there and that has helped me get ready. There are always adjustments, but I am ready to play."

This season, Avery played in 23 games with the Dallas Stars, scoring 3 goals, 10 points, and picking up 77 penalty minutes, before stepping away from the game to take part in the NHL's counseling program after off-the-ice comments got him in trouble.

Although he seemed reluctant to credit the counseling for changing him, he does admit to being a different person now.

"People change continuously as they grow and get older and that can be contributed to a number of things when dealing with something that happens to you that warrants a change," Avery said. "The fact is that I'm feeling good and it's great to be back in New York. I certainly feel better about myself and having the game back in my life."

But does that mean that the changes will translate on the ice in the characteristics that made Avery the guy New York fans grew to love last season?
"It was fun to see him again. I'm excited that he's back. I think he is well prepared for this. ... I think he will do just fine." -- Henrik Lundqvist
"I think even a milder version of Sean Avery is still ... not that mild," he laughed.

For those who worry that Tortorella doesn't like the type of player that Avery is, the coach made sure to clear up any confusion over his feelings.

"Personality is very important as you play an eight-month season. I think you need personality, but it can't step out of team concept. It can't be about you, it has to be about the team," Tortorella said. "Disruptive it can't be. It needs to be a locker room that's together. We want Sean to join us. All we want Sean to do is concentrate and play. That is the bottom line, to try and win hockey games. If he concentrates on just playing and not getting caught up in all the minutia and everything coming at him, I think he can be a real effective guy."

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