By Elizabeth Casey
It’s 9 a.m. on a Friday and a tired Wolves team has just returned from a difficult road trip. Players might be tempted to move slowly as they prepare for the morning skate, but center Andre Deveaux is armed with a microphone and a camera crew and is keeping everyone on their toes.
The 26-year-old forward is gamely filming his new Wolves TV feature, “Dish With Devo,” in which he interviews teammates on a variety of topics of his choice, ranging from what they want for Christmas, to why he has not been selected as best man in an upcoming wedding.
Deveaux’s act isn’t just for the cameras. His intimidating presence on the ice transforms into a playful one in the locker room, and his status as one of the team’s resident pranksters is what led the club to give him his “TV reporting” debut.
“He definitely keeps things loose and keeps guys on their toes,” said right wing Darren Haydar. “Between him and Boris (Valabik), there isn’t usually a dull moment in our locker room.”
“That’s the way I’ve always been,” Deveaux, or ‘Devo’ to his teammates, said. “I’m always the guy playing pranks. I think I get it back tenfold, but that’s the way it should be. I think the boys like it. They act like I annoy them, but if I wasn’t in the room they’d all notice.”
The way Deveaux sees it, keeping the atmosphere around the rink light is an important element for fostering a happy, functional team.
“It’s always important to have a sense of humor,” he said. “If all you’re talking about is hockey all the time and you’re not having a good time, it’s a long year, it’s going to get tedious.”
He may enjoy being a goofball, but the exterior of a charismatic jokester belies a serious hockey player who has for years been grappling to find his niche in the professional game.
Originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2002, Deveaux learned that the team did not intend to sign him after juniors.
“I went to two camps (with Montreal) and my last year of juniors they told my agent that they weren’t considering signing me. I went back in the draft and didn’t get drafted, but right at the end, Tampa Bay called and said they wanted to be the first to offer me a spot at their rookie camp, and they ended up signing me after the rookie tournament in Traverse City and gave me my first shot at pro.”
The then 20-year-old Deveaux began his pro career with the American Hockey League’s Springfield Falcons. Admittedly, he had some growing up to do.
Living on his own for the first time, the young forward got some help from the older players on his team, but he credits his first professional coach with the assist on one particular life skill.
“I remember I got my first bill in the mail, and I had no idea what to do with it,” he laughed. “I had to go ask my coach, Dirk Graham, how to pay a bill and he taught me how.”
He soon learned that adjusting to the pro lifestyle was a challenge on the ice as well. Deveaux spent two and a half seasons shuttling between Springfield and the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs and entertained the possibility that his professional career would be over before it really began.
“I was up and down a little bit,” he said. “They kept sending me down and I actually debated for a little bit about not playing hockey and maybe going back to school.”
On February 1, 2007, Deveaux’s luck changed.
“I was back in Springfield and we were on the bus and I was sitting in the back with Andy Delmore playing cards,” he remembered. “The coach was inside talking on the phone and the bus was late leaving. All the boys were wondering what was going on and Delly said, ‘I think I’m getting traded,’ so I shook his hand and said, ‘sorry Delly, I would have liked to play with you a little more,’ and then the coach came on the bus and said, ‘I need to see Delmore and Deveaux.’”
The Chicago Wolves were putting together a team to make a playoff run, and had their eye on the big forward. Within a few months, Deveaux went from contemplating the end of his hockey career, to a regular player on a team in the Western Conference Finals.
He returned to Chicago the following season and played an important role on the team that went on to capture the 2008 Calder Cup Championship, joining Colin Stuart and Kevin Doell in forming the team’s energetic, defensively-minded third line.
“Our job was to play against other team’s top lines, which was an opportunity for us because we knew we’d be playing a lot,” he explained. “Our job was to make sure the other team didn’t score, and I had to do a lot more fighting back then. It was part of my job.”
It was a job at which Deveaux excelled, and his skills – and confidence – grew as the team played deep into the postseason.
After the championship, the once struggling player had earned himself an offer from the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs, where his newfound confidence helped him continue to develop with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
“My confidence was pretty high after winning a Calder Cup, so I wasn’t afraid to try stuff when I went to Toronto,” Deveaux said.
“Sometimes in hockey you make high-risk, high-reward plays. Sometimes they pay off, and if they don’t, you look silly, but I was trying a lot of high-risk stuff and it paid off. I went into the season that way and scored a lot of goals. Before, my job had been defense - I never had a chance to be too offensive – but it was actually a pretty simple transition for me to get into more of an offensive style.”
Before long, the Maple Leafs took notice and Deveaux was recalled to make his NHL debut, but as with his first pro experience in Springfield, Deveaux was reminded that professional hockey isn’t always glamorous, even in the NHL.
“I got called up because I was scoring goals - it was the first time in my career I had started playing a lot and being offensive - and then I went up there and I just fought. I was only playing one or two minutes a game – which was great because I was in the NHL – but it felt almost like a step back.”
Then, when he was least expecting it, something beyond his control changed his course again.
“I tore ligaments in my hand and I couldn’t fight anymore,” he said. “I had to make the decision to either get surgery and end my season, or go down to the AHL and not fight, so I went down and just played my game and I’m glad I did. I think I had 25 points and 14 goals in 34 games, which was a huge stepping stone for me. I made myself realize I could contribute in ways other than fighting and playing defensive.”
After leading the Marlies in scoring last year, Deveaux found himself weighing options for the 2010-11 season. He turned to his former Wolves teammates Jason Krog and Darren Haydar for advice, and the duo helped persuade him to consider returning to Chicago.
“I called Krogger, and he said, ‘why don’t you come back to the Wolves? If an NHL team really likes you, they can always come get you.’ And I realized that makes the most sense for me,” explained Deveaux. “Now, I’m not worried about who’s going up and who’s going down and I can just concentrate on the important stuff and helping my team win here. It’s no secret that teams want winners, and team success really breeds individual success.”
The 2011 Deveaux is the same character fans remember from 2008 off the ice, but on the ice, his persona is significantly different. He still racks up the penalty minutes, but he also leads the team in power-play goals.
“I think his confidence with the puck has definitely grown. He likes to make plays now and he’s actually pretty good at it,” laughed Haydar. “He’s a big body, so he can control the puck and keep the puck and he seems to take that role a little more seriously than he did before. Before, he just wanted to crash and bang, and now he’s able to do that, but with a little more confidence with the puck.”
Deveaux agrees that he has finally found a niche that suits him.
“I think there’s always room for improvement, but I like where I am now,” he said. “I’m getting a couple points, I’m playing offensively and I still play physical and mix in a couple fights here and there.
“If an NHL opportunity comes along, great, and if not, I’m playing for a team I love with some good friends – and not just teammates. I have relationships with other people in the organization like Wendell Young and Kenny McCudden, and I won a championship here.”
As for his playful antics off the ice?
“I’ve learned you have to pick your spots,” Deveaux said. “You can’t always be joking around and playing pranks. There’s a time and a place for it, and as the years have gone on I’ve kind of learned that - to an extent…but I’m still pretty bad.”