TORONTO - New York Rangers forward Sean Avery denies making comments about Jason Blake's cancer before a pre-game altercation with Toronto winger Darcy Tucker, an incident that led to a series of NHL fines Tuesday.
Speculation ran wild Monday over what triggered Saturday's melee after the Fan 590 Toronto all-sports radio station reported that an unidentified Rangers player heard Avery make comments about Leafs forward Blake and his illness.
Avery denied that in a statement released through the Rangers on Tuesday.
"I am extremely upset and hurt that false and damaging comments were attributed to me regarding Jason Blake," Avery said. "I made no such comments. I have lost two grandfathers to cancer and have been a consistent contributor to multiple cancer related charities, first and foremost, Hockey Fights Cancer.
"I am unable to comment further, as the matter is now being addressed by legal counsel."
Avery met with league disciplinarian Colin Campbell on Tuesday in Toronto and was fined the maximum US$2,500 for his role in the melee.
The Rangers were fined $25,000, the Maple Leafs $10,000, and Tucker $1,000.
"The unprofessional conduct of Avery in initiating this altercation, less than a week after being involved in an incident in the pre-game warm-up against New Jersey, is the basis for this discipline," Campbell said in a statement. "Tucker also bears some responsibility for his inappropriate response.
"Both organizations must also be held accountable for the players' actions."
The pre-game incident appeared to be sparked by Avery, who was yelling at Tucker before shoving Blake. Tucker then slashed the Rangers agitator and the two got face-to-face in a heated exchange. Tucker and Avery ended up fighting during the first period.
Avery avoided discipline a week ago when - just back from a 10-game absence because of a shoulder injury - he was involved in a pre-game skirmish with New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. Devils forward David Clarkson stepped in to stop his jawing.
Avery and Tucker also have some history together. They fought late last season during a game at Madison Square Garden.
"Darcy has always been a whiner," Avery said after the April 1 game. "You say you don't like his hair and he'll be upset."
Tucker declined to get into a verbal fight then.
"I'm going to take the high road in this one," Tucker said. "He is what he is. He'll have a comeback for everything."
-With files from The Associated Press.