If I hadn’t seen Sean Avery and Marek Malik throwing punches at one another during practice today, I wouldn’t have believed it.
But what had been a mere one-on-one battle during drills today quickly escalated into shoves and then an all-out fight between the 6-foot-6 Malik and the 5-10 Avery, lasting maybe 30 seconds before it eventually ended. For those scoring at home, we’ll call it Malik by TKO.
Words were exchanged after that. At one point, Avery could be heard saying, “What are you,a tough guy? Why don’t you play like that in a game?”
In the awkward aftermath, Tom Renney skated over to Malik and said, “Good job, big guy,” and it seemed like a number of observers were impressed with how Malik more than held his ground against Avery.
The practice continued without incident after that, with Avery and Malik even taking part in the same in-zone drills. Afterwards, the prevailing theme throughout the dressing was it was the sort of intense display the team needed after such a listless showing against L.A.
“Things happen,” Malik said. “There’s nothing between us. That’s hockey. It’s a contact sport. Even if it’s practice, you want to play hard. If somebody doesn’t feel like he’s been hit right, he might step up. It happens. It’s not the first time or the last time it’s going to happen.”
“You guys gotta love it,” Martin Straka joked. “Thank God it wasn’t me. I’d have another black eye.”
Although Malik hung around to answer questions, Avery, just as he did last night, bolted before we could even enter the dressing room.
According to a couple of veteran writers and even Tom Renney, it was the first fight the Rangers had in a regular season practice in a number of years. But Renney didn’t have a problem with it.
“I like it,” he said. “It wasn’t malicious. It wasn’t stick swinging. It was within the rules of the game. We have to step up, so maybe this is the sign of a team saying, ‘That’s it. We have to be better every night.’”
I asked Renney if he had concerns about lingering repercussions between Avery and Malik.
“Zero,” he said. “We’re a team. If someone was to hammer Sean Avery from behind and Harry was in the vicinity, he’d be all over the guy and vice versa. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is dead and gone.”