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Sean Avery in the minors: Connecticut Whale at the Portland Pirates, January 2nd, 2012

January 17, 2012

Photo I snapped after the game ended, in overtime, with the Pirates winning. Mr Avery wasn’t pleased.

Ah, the “A.”

On January 2nd, two weeks ago, I went to a Portland Pirates game with some family members. I hadn’t been to Portland since I was canvassing for Kerry-Edwards (oh, what a fail) in 2004. And I hadn’t been to an AHL game…ever. The opportunity was too good to let slip, and my six year-old cousin had never been to a hockey game before. Yes, it was the same afternoon as the Winter Classic, but live hockey takes the cake every time.

Now, the Portland Pirates are the AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Connecticut Whale are that of the New York Rangers. Each have some decent talent. The Whale more so, featured Ryan Bourque (Ray’s son, and Ray was in attendance, which is a story for another day), Tim Erixson (the kid that plead out of Calgary), and then, number 16, Sean Avery. I won’t lie–all our eyes were on him through the first period. To the exclusion of anyone else on the ice. The stars weren’t quite so studded for Portland (see game notes), but Andy Miele provided all kinds of pop. We had to root for the Portland, seeing as we were in the Cumberland County Civic Center as their guests. And, as Massachusetts natives, well, we dislike all things New York, right? And being a passive fan, what sort of fun is that?

Alas, our rooting interests weren’t so appeased in the first period. The Whale came out to play, jumping up two goals, and tacking on a third early in the second period. They peppered the Pirates’ goalie (or goalies, as the switch was made mid-game), had excellent pressure in the offensive zone. Then, a comeback was staged. The Pirates scored two goals, inching to 3-2. The intermission events were hilarious, including some “shoot the puck from the red-line” games and a puck toss. There were many Pirates jerseys of all eras and affiliates to be had. Whatever stagnation might be happening with hockey in Phoenix is frankly irrelevant in Maine.

In the start of the third, they tied the game. The Portland fans were uproarious. It’s a game now. The Whale came in arrogant, taking penalties. Now, they were humbled. But then they scored, making it 4-3. There was some rough stuff. With two minutes in the game, his team already down a man for a delay of game call, Avery high-sticks someone. Into the box he goes. And the Pirates tie the game. It heads to overtime, and Nathan gets the winner. The Pirates won, 5-4.

Fairly directly, Sean Avery caused his team to lose. Following the game, his team headed down the tunnel to their locker room, and Avery remained on the ice, sepeaking to officials. The Pirates remained nearby, celebrating. For  a solid two minutes, helmet tipped-up, Avery stood there, gesticulating, chatting with the officials, who mostly just nodded and didn’t say anything. Everyone at the arena stood, watching. Nobody headed for the exits. It didn’t much matter what was being said–it was just fun to see Sean Avery, badboy of North American hockey, clad in a kelly green sweater for an afternoon. Indeed, the same afternoon when he might have expected to be playing outdoors in Philadelphia, in front of HBO and NBC, he was playing in Portland. And it wasn’t such a bad thing, or was it?

He swung his stick around after whistles, he hung over the boards while “on the bench”–often his leg outstretched on the top of the bench (see below). I was surprised coaches or officials didn’t tell him to put his leg down (and he wasn’t in the middle of a change or anything). He looked casual. This whole demotion business was just a temporary trouble for him, nothing more. But was fascinating.

The CCCC (I don’t know if anyone calls it the quad-C, but they should) was a small, cozy place that was bustling, especially for a Monday holiday afternoon game. Attendance in the lower half (there aren’t two bowls, just steep, non-tiered seating on four sides). I have never been to a game in the Colisee Pepsi in Quebec, but I imagine this arena to be styled after that. Apparently it is set to have renovations after the close of the season. But it’s fully functional. The concourse is small, and the concessions limited (a boon if you like New England-made beer). But it’s a good arena with excellent sight-lines. We were in the fourth row, to the right of the penalty boxes. Everyone sat in their seats, quiet for much of the game, except the tying goal and the game-winner. After stepping out after the game, it’s easy to see how beautiful Portland is in winter. The harbor, the shifts in elevation. It’s a pretty city, and a great one for some refreshing, fast-paced hockey.

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