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Sean Avery, right, is checked by Shaun Heshka of the Manitoba Moose in American Hockey League action on Saturday. ((Jessica Hill/Associated Press))

Sean Avery made his American Hockey League debut Saturday night, taking the first step toward getting his professional career back on track.

Avery registered three shots on net and was involved in two minor on-ice melees in the Hartford Wolf Pack's 4-1 loss to the visiting Manitoba Moose in his first competitive game in two months.

"I felt good. I was a little nervous. It's been a long time since I've played," said Avery, who logged close to 20 minutes of ice time.

Early in the first period, Avery was in the middle of a pileup behind the Manitoba net before some teammates drew the attention of several Moose players away from the 28-year-old left-winger.

Avery came to the defence of his new teammates late in the second period, putting himself into the middle of another fracas behind the Moose net and trading shoves with several Manitoba skaters.

"A couple of guys said something. Nothing I could probably repeat," Avery said. "That's the type of things that help me play better."

Avery admitted to firing a few barbs, but claimed he held back.

"I had a few comments, but nothing that was too drastic," Avery said. "Or something the old Sean would say."

The troubled Dallas Stars forward was suspended by the NHL on Dec. 3 for making offensive comments about current NHL players dating his ex-girlfriends. After completing a league-mandated counselling program, Avery cleared waivers earlier this week.

Hartford is Rangers affiliate

Because the Stars do not have a minor league affiliate, the New York Rangers agreed to have him play with their club in Hartford.

"I would to thank [general manager] Glen Sather and the Rangers organization for giving me the chance to resume my hockey career by affording me this opportunity with the Hartford Wolf Pack," Avery said in a statement released by the AHL club earlier this week.

"I am looking forward to getting back on the ice, working my way back to the NHL and playing the game I love.

"While I appreciate the many interview requests, at this point in time I would like to focus on hockey and will not be making any further statements while with the Wolf Pack."

The Rangers have expressed some interest in reacquiring Avery, who played for the team the past two seasons.

Although Dallas signed the winger to a four-year, $15.5-million-US deal last summer, Stars owner Tom Hicks told Toronto-based radio station the FAN 590 that Avery will not be welcomed back with the organization.

Since the suspension, the Stars, who started poorly, are 19-9-3 and back in the Western Conference playoff hunt.

With files from Associated Press