The word “respect” gets used a lot in NHL circles. But sometimes in hockey’s top league, respect is a nebulous concept: one player’s idea of competing hard and gaining an advantage is another player’s idea of a vicious slight. Here’s an previously-untold example:
It was the 2001-02 season – Sean Avery’s rookie NHL campaign – and his Detroit Red Wings were taking on the defending-champion Colorado Avalanche. Avery’s reputation as a big-time trash-talker already was well established from his formative years in the Ontario League – and when Avs captain and Hockey Hall-of-Famer Joe Sakic lined up near the Wings bench before a faceoff, Avery stood up and yelled at Sakic to get his attention.
However, in the two or three seconds it took Sakic to turn his head toward Avery, Red Wings veteran and star winger Brett Hull stood up, reached around another Detroit player, grabbed Avery by the back of the jersey and unceremoniously yanked him back to the seated position before he could utter another word.
“You do not get to talk to Mr. Sakic,” Hull said.
And that was that.
“I was like, ‘Look, you have not earned the right or anything else to be able to talk to Joe Sakic in any manner,’ ” Hull said in a phone conversation late last week. “No matter what (Avery) was going to say, it was not going to be good.”
Even though Sakic was a key member of a team with which the Wings had developed a heated rivalry, Avery was not going to be allowed to drag things into the gutter. This was hockey policing itself without an enforcer.
“With the guys we had on our team – myself, Brendan (Shanahan) and Stevie (Yzerman) – guys played hard and played to win, but when we played Colorado and all the other great teams, we had a lot of respect for them,” Hull said. “They were champions and unbelievable players. And I just never believed in all that chirping anyway.”