HARTFORD, Conn. - Sean Avery is getting a second chance.
The controversial winger is resuming his hockey career with the New York Rangers' affiliate in Hartford. He practised with the Wolf Pack on Tuesday morning after being assigned by the Dallas Stars.
"Dallas has given me a great opportunity to come and play here right now," Avery said at the Wolf Pack's practice facility in nearby Cromwell. "I'm just worrying about today and happy that I'm back playing. That's the important thing."
Avery hasn't played since his NHL suspension in December for making a crude remark about other hockey players dating his former girlfriends. He completed treatment in a league counselling program last weekend and cleared waivers Monday.
The 28-year-old player spent parts of two seasons in New York before signing a US$15.5-million, four-year deal with Dallas. The Stars are the only NHL team without a primary affiliate and could have sent him to any willing team. They have already said Avery won't return to their lineup.
Avery wasn't sure when his AHL stint might lead to an NHL return.
"Guidelines and timelines aren't in my plans right now," he said. "I just want to help these guys as much as I can and just play hard and have some fun."
AHL president David Andrews says he wasn't surprised when he found out that the Rangers would give Avery a chance to play with their farm team.
He believes the league will provide Avery an opportunity to get back in game shape around other motivated players. But Andrews doesn't expect a mad rush to the box office by people who want to see him play.
"More than half of our players every year go up and play in the National Hockey League," Andrews told The Canadian Press. "It's not as though it's some sort of shining star to help sell tickets in all of our markets. I don't really see that effect happening."
Avery's most likely rout back to the NHL is through re-entry waivers. Any team that claimed him off those would be responsible for half his contract, with the Stars paying the other half. The teams with the poorest records get the first chance at putting in claims.
Avery thanked Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather for giving him the chance to resume his career. Dallas has sent a dozen players to seven other AHL teams this season, but Avery is the only one who has gone to Hartford.
"Sean was a good player for the Rangers during his time here and has worked extremely hard off the ice over the last two months," Sather said in a statement.
Avery hasn't appeared in the AHL since a three-game stint with the Manchester Monarchs during the 2003 playoffs. Hartford's next game is Wednesday night at home against the Manitoba Moose, and the Wolf Pack said he will not play.
"My head felt good," Avery said after Tuesday's practice. "My legs and my lungs felt a little behind."