Screening a goaltender has been a common tactic in ice hockey for many years now. Usually this involves simply placing several players in front of the goalie during a play (often a power play). If the goalie cannot see the puck obviously it is very difficult to tell where it is going, or even if it's been shot. Some netminders are so good in modern times, especially with techniques like "the Butterfly" that one of the only ways to score on them is to screen the shot.
Sean Avery during a first round playoff game, on a power play, took this tactic to a new level (a new low level some would say). Actually Avery takes a lot of things to new lows and his career is a story in and of itself. So we'll leave that whole mess for another day and get back to the subject at hand.
On April 13, 2008 during the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on a 5-on-3 power play, the New York Rangers, at home, had the 2-man advantage over the New Jersey Devils. At that time Avery was a forward for New York and he parked right in front of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur during the play. Now, Brodeur, you must understand, is one of the greatest NHL goalies of all time, who actually has two goals of his own in his stats, among many other ice hockey statistical triumphs. Then here comes Avery, the much maligned but talented forward, getting right in Brodeur's kitchen, as hockey commentators are wont to say. He actually turned his back to the play and, facing Brodeur, waved his stick repeatedly right in Brodeur's face to distract him! The play-by-play announcer was nearly flummoxed; he'd never seen anything quite like it.
As you can imagine, this annoyed Brodeur greatly - to the point where he risked getting a penalty shoving his glove in Avery's face, not a good idea when you're already two men down (not that you can have a 5-on-2 power play, it's just that as soon as one person comes back another heads to the penalty box).
Did this astoundingly audacious and bizarre tactic work?
It did. Well sort of.
After the play was forced back into New York's own end, with time still on the 5-on-3, the Blueshirts skated back up the ice and guess what? The Rangers scored. And guess who scored? None other than Sean Avery! It wasn't right after the stick waving, but the argument can be made that Brodeur was so livid that he let it get to him. One of the worst things one can do to a goaltender to get him or her off their game is to mess with their head (one of the reasons that fans chant an opposing goalie's last name incessantly, usually during playoff games where emotions are high).
The tactic was not illegal at the time because, well, nobody had ever done it before. Ever. As current CBC Television commentator (and former player and coach) Don Cherry put it, "...You can't blame the referee, because 'he couldn't believe what he was seeing.'"
But now it is illegal. After the game, the League scrambled to amend the rules on unsportsmanlike conduct, an amendment that has been named, yes, you guessed it, The Sean Avery Rule.
Now it is illegal for a player to park in front of a goalie and wave his or her stick in the netminder's face. So don't try it. You'll receive a penalty.
Personally, while I do agree it's low and should be illegal, I found Sean Avery's move nothing short of awesome. I couldn't stop the belly laughs when I first heard it (and later when I saw it on YouTube). And I mean "awesome" in the literal sense, as I was in awe at the sheer audacity of it and actually a bit amazed that it had never been tried before. Like the refs and the announcers and all the players, I had never seen anything like it.
Want to see the genesis of this rule, the now infamous play by Avery? Here ya go.
Source: Wikipedia (online), Sports Illustrated (print)