BRUCE BERLET REPORTS – DEVEAUX, IN THE BELLY OF THE WHALE

BY: Bruce Berlet

Upon reflection, Andre Deveaux had one overriding thought.

“I’m just happy I wasn’t hurt,” Deveaux said.

Happy, indeed.

Deveaux, a noted tough guy, is the latest victim of a seemingly increasing number of senseless hits from behind and the blind side that have unfortunately invaded hockey. Deveaux was run face-first into the boards when the Flyers’ Tom Sestito took a major-league run at the New York Rangers right wing Monday night in Philadelphia. Defenseman Stu Bickel, who played for the Connecticut Whale last season, immediately came to Deveaux’s defense and pummeled Sestito as a melee broke out. Veteran pest Sean Avery also was a major help, and Sestito received a five-minute major for boarding, five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct.

On Wednesday, Sestito was suspended for the remainder of the preseason (two games) and the first two games of the regular season by former Rangers and Hartford Whalers wing Brendan Shanahan, a future Hockey Hall of Famer who is the new NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety. Shanahan has earned high marks for the penalties he has been doling out, notably the ten-game suspension to repeat offender Jody Shelley and eight games for James Wisniewski. And Shanahan has received bonus points for offering video explanations for his decisions on nhl.com.

Many thought four games was a light sentence for Sestito, who had already been demoted to the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms. But to his credit, Shanahan again posted his reasoning on the NHL website, saying it was an illegal hit from behind but that Sestito had no previous suspensions and Deveaux wasn’t injured –thankfully.

Ironically, the Whale and Phantoms open the season in Glens Falls, N.Y., on Oct. 8, but there won’t be any possible retaliation because Sestito will be serving his suspension while losing $5,946 in salary. According to the AHL by-laws, a player who is under suspension in another league or organization who seeks to play in the AHL while under that suspension will have the relevant disciplinary matter independently reviewed the president, who may in his discretion deem the player ineligible. AHL president Dave Andrews ruled Sestito ineligible to play until Oct. 9, meaning he’ll miss the Phantoms’ last two preseason games and their opener. If he is called up to the NHL, he’ll still have to serve two games.

“I’m lucky that I’m completely fine,” Deveaux said after a second day of practice with his new team Thursday at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell. “I didn’t see it coming, but it’s a fast game and that’s going to happen. Whether he meant it or not, guys unfortunately make mistakes out there sometimes. I’m sure if he could take that back, he would.

“But that stuff happens, and this time I was on the receiving end of it. I’m just lucky I’m OK. It’s in the past now, so I’m just going to forget about it and move forward.”

That included continuing to take the high road on Sestito’s punishment. After the game Monday, Deveaux told the New York media that it was “pretty dangerous. I’m in a pretty defenseless position. I’m sure they’re going to look at it.”

As for Sestito getting four games, Deveaux said, “It doesn’t matter what I think about that stuff. Some guys have their positions and know more about the game than I do. If that’s what they decide, it’s fine with me.”

Deveaux, the only person from the Bahamas to play in the NHL, did say he liked Bickel, Avery, Brian Boyle and others coming to his defense.

“I was happy with it, but you also expect it,” said Deveaux, 27, who has done plenty of his own dirty work in eight pro seasons. “If you’re not going to stick up for your teammates, you shouldn’t be playing hockey. I don’t usually look for stuff anymore, stuff usually comes finding me, but I’ll always stick up for one of my teammates.”

So Deveaux wants to put the hit behind him and focus on helping the Whale win hockey games and hopefully earn a call-up to the Rangers. He’ll start Friday night at 7 when he and right wing Andreas Thuresson, who also was assigned to the Whale on Monday night and cleared waivers on Wednesday, make their Whale debuts against the Worcester Sharks at the TD Bank Sports Center on the campus of Quinnipiac University in Hamden ($5 admission benefits Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford). Veterans Wade Redden and Jared Nightingale, the Whale’s No. 1 defensive pairing much of last season, also will play for the first time and could also see action Sunday at 2 p.m. when the two teams have a rematch in their preseason finale at Champions Skating Center ($5 admission benefits Junior Wolf Pack youth hockey).

The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Deveaux has 75 goals, 89 assists and 1,214 penalty minutes in 417 AHL games with the Chicago Wolves, Springfield Falcons and Toronto Marlies and has one assist and 75 penalty minutes in 22 NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is coming off his most productive season with career highs in goals (23) and points (46) while playing mostly on a line with former Rangers center Jason Krog, the AHL MVP in 2008, when Deveaux helped the Wolves win the Calder Cup. Deveaux also got plenty of power-play time with Krog and perennial AHL All-Star Darren Haydar, scoring 14 goals with the man advantage, which tied for fourth in the league. But the Wolves missed the playoffs by one point so he and others weren’t re-signed by the former Atlanta Thrashers, now the Winnipeg Jets.

“I’d been putting up more (offensive) numbers and fighting a little less the last few years,” said Deveaux, a sixth-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2002. “The year before, I led the (Toronto) Marlies in goals (16) and assists (25), too. At this level I can do both, but it’s just kind of figuring out what the team needs and what they need me to do. The last few years I’ve had coaches tell me I need to put up numbers, and when you have to do that, you just can’t run around and hit every guy. You just can’t do it physically and have to make sure you’re good for your offensive chances.

“It’s finding a balance, and I’m sure that (coach Ken Gernander) is going to tell me what he wants from me. For me, it’s a learning process, too. My goal is to help this team win and be ready for a call-up if there are any injuries (in New York), so obviously I want to play the way the organization wants me to. That’s my first priority, to make them happy.”

Deveaux skated Thursday alongside left wing Chris McKelvie and center Matt Rust, who played for four years on a line with Rangers prospect Carl Hagelin on the University of Michigan team that lost in the NCAA championship game.

“I think that line has a little bit of everything with Deveaux’s big body and McKelvie’s and Rust’s speed,” Gernander said. “(Deveaux) brings toughness, which is probably why he played three preseason games (with the Rangers). It’s tough games when you’re going into New Jersey and Philadelphia, and that’s an element he brings, just like everybody has certain aspects of their game that are maybe a little more dominant or something that not everybody possesses. That’s one of his strengths.”

Deveaux is also considered a strong character guy, which he has developed partly because of racial slurs that he has encountered in his career. It came to a head on Feb. 12, 2010, when after getting penalized during a melee in a game between the Marlies and Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Deveaux was taunted with racial slurs by a fan while in the penalty box. Deveaux threw a roll of hockey tape in the heckler’s direction and was suspended for three games by the AHL.

“I didn’t react very well, but that’s life,” Deveaux said. “You’re going to run into incidents whether it’s in hockey or life in general. I encountered some (racial slurs) growing up, but I’m sure no more than anybody else. I’d like to say growing up in Canada is different because there are so many different ethnicities, but that stuff is going to happen.

“Yeah, there was an incident in Winnipeg, and in hindsight, I probably could have dealt with it a little better. But that being said I don’t hold any grudges. To me, it’s just an incident that happened, and like (Sestito’s) hit, you just move forward and try to learn from it.”

Ironically, Deveaux said he talked to Flyers wing Wayne Simmonds, who is also black, before the game in Philadelphia about having a banana thrown on the ice four nights earlier as he was about to take a shot in a shootout in a game against the Detroit Red Wings in London, Ontario. Simmonds handled what he called “an unfortunate” issue with dignity, and London Mayor Joe Fontana issued an apology, saying it was “a stupid and mindless act by a single individual.”

On Wednesday, Chris Moorhouse, 26, of London was served a summons for engaging in a prohibited activity under the provincial trespassing act and faces a fine of up to $2,000. London Police Chief Brad Duncan said the offense did not meet the threshold of a hate crime or mischief. But in the game against the Rangers, Simmonds appeared to yell a homophobic slur at Avery but wasn’t fined or suspended because the NHL said there wasn’t conclusive evidence.

After not being re-signed by the Thrashers/Jets, Deveaux said he got several contract offers at the start of free agency on July 1 and then things “kind of cooled down.” Deveaux and his agent talked to several teams in Germany and the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, but he finally decided to sign a one-year, two-way deal with the Rangers on Aug. 16 partly because he played in Toronto with Kris Newbury and John Mitchell, who are still with the Rangers, and knew Blueshirts defenseman Dan Girardi from their formative days in Welland, Ontario, Canada, with Daniel Paille, who helped the Boston Bruins win their first Stanley Cup in 39 years this spring.

“I thought it was a good fit (with the Rangers),” Deveaux said. “I don’t think they have that many guys in my role up there, plus I played with Newbs and Mitchell in Toronto, so I talked to some guys and they really liked the Rangers. It just kind of came up and seemed right. My agent was really pushing me to go to Europe, but I wasn’t ready. Europe is there next year. The New York Rangers came and offered me a contract, so it just seemed great for now, especially if there’s a chance I can play with my best friend (Girardi) in the NHL. That’s worth the gamble right there.”

Deveaux was born in Freeport, Bahamas, and jokingly said, “Maybe there’s an ice rink in one of the cruise ships. I like to say I’m the only hockey player that my country has ever cultivated.”

But Deveaux lived in the Bahamas only until he was 3 and then moved to Welland, where his mother attended medical school and ended up working in the city hospital. Deveaux began skating at 5, which was when he became buddies with Girardi and Paille on the way to becoming a naturalized Canadian citizen. When Paille got married, Deveaux and Girardi were the best men. When Girardi got married, Deveaux and Paille were the best men, and Rangers captain and former Wolf Pack right wing Ryan Callahan was in the wedding party.

“The three of us are very, very close,” said Deveaux, who played with Girardi and Paille for about 10 years before they headed their separate ways and played against each other in juniors in the Ontario Hockey League. “Everyone at one point plays hockey in Canada, just as it is with baseball or basketball or football (in the United States). Back home, hockey is like religion.

“And whether we played hockey or not, those guys are like family. When I talk to my little brothers and sisters, they’ll ask about Paille and Girardi. I remember when Girardi was going to go home and play for Brock, a university back home, and then a couple of years later, he’s signing a one-way (contract) in the NHL. It just goes to show what can happen, but he deserves it. I think he would have been drafted in the NHL, but he unfortunately hurt his spleen and had to take a year off. Not many guys take a year off from hockey and then come back and do as well as he did.

“It’s a good story to most people, but when my friends and I talk back home, it’s no surprise that he is where he is because growing up he was always one of the best players.”

Girardi won a Memorial Cup with the London Knights in 2006, and thanks to Paille, he and Deveaux got to sip beverages from the Stanley Cup when it arrived in Welland this summer.

“I’d like to think I could get up there (to the NHL) and maybe help out,” Deveaux said. “That would be pretty cool. Paille has been bragging a little bit.”

Especially at Paille’s Stanley Cup party in Welland. Hundreds of people gathered at Boston Tea, a local bar in Welland, and then as the night wound down, Deveaux and Paille and his wife, Dana, and Girardi and his wife, Pam, were hanging out in a hotel with the Stanley Cup.

“It was pretty cool because that’s the way we grew up,” Deveaux recalled with a smile. “I was so happy for Danny, but it didn’t hit me that he had won it until we were in the (hotel) room and just all hanging out like we did all through high school growing up, drinking out of the Stanley Cup. I always say to my brothers and sisters that it gives me hope. It’s pretty good for a couple kids from Welland: Paille was the captain of the (Canadian) junior national team, was drafted in the first round by Buffalo (in 2002) and just won a Stanley Cup and Girardi is now doing great as one of the top defensemen with the Rangers.”

Deveaux’s quest to approach his buddies’ feats begins anew with the Whale on Friday night.

IMPROVEMENT ALL AROUND

Virtually the same Whale lineup did almost a complete about-face Wednesday night in a 4-2 victory over the Falcons after a lethargic effort in a 3-1 loss to the more experienced Albany Devils 24 hours earlier. The line of Tommy Grant-Kelsey Tessier-Scott Tanski was especially sharp, combining for three goals and four assists and a combined plus-11.

“I got it (Wednesday) morning so it must have been by accident,” Whale coach Ken Gernander joked about the new line combo.

“The whole team seemed to have more jump right from the get-go,” said Tessier, who didn’t play Tuesday night.

Tanski, an undrafted right wing on a tryout after spending the last four seasons with Brampton of the OHL, led the way with two goals, the first when he jammed in Grant’s centering pass from the left corner at 8:16 to duplicate a play that resulted in Tessier’s goal 26 seconds into the game.

“A game like this is essential (for Tanski),” Gernander said. “You’re getting opportunities and you’re getting looks, so you’ve got to make the most of it.”

The Whale made the most of all facets of the game with more energy, better transition and stronger forechecking and work along the boards to go with another stout goaltending effort by starter Cam Talbot (11 saves on 11 shots).

“It wasn’t a giant deviation from what we ask for, what we’re looking for night in and night out,” Gernander said. “They just did it rather well tonight and cashed in on their chances. I think because we put pucks in good areas, they’re hard to recover and we can pressure good, that’s a big key. Last night I feel we had a chance to get pucks deep and we turned them over.

“Good decision making through the neutral zone led to good offensive zone pressure. That’s kind of what we’re looking for in how we want to play, our style of play, and tonight we looked like the quicker team. Last night we weren’t necessarily the quicker team. You have to initiate because that’s the nature of hockey. If you’re not aggressive or the offensive, you’re a half-step behind, so that’s a must.”

Jordan Owens, who played parts of two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings for Newbury on March 3, 2010, also improved his chances of making the team on a tryout with a solid game that included the game’s prettiest goal. Owens took a pass from Kale Kerbashian, who scored the Whale’s only goal Tuesday night, burst down right wing around a Falcons defender, cut into the slot and lifted the puck past Mike Spillane (18 saves on 21 shots) for the winner at 6:08 of the second period.

The Whale made it 4-0 with 1:24 left in the second period when Grant picked up his own rebound and passed in front to Tanski, who slammed a shot past Brian Mahoney-Wilson (12 saves on 13 shots). Tessier, who didn’t play against the Devils, also assisted on the play.

Phil Ginand assisted on the Falcons’ third-period goals by Tom Mele and Wade MacLeod (power play) against Jerry Kuhn, (17 saves on 19 shots).

Not surprisingly, the Grant-Tessier-Tanski line was intact at practice Thursday and should be again Friday night. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Thuresson skated with Owens and newcomer Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, who didn’t play Wednesday night but likely has earned a spot on the Whale after strong showings in the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., and Rangers camp in Greenburgh, N.Y.

Thuresson, 23, acquired from the Nashville Predators for Brodie Dupont on July 2, had 14 goals and 24 assists in 76 games with the Milwaukee Admirals last season and was scoreless in three games with the parent club. He has one goal and two assists in 25 games with the Predators and was reassigned after scoring a terrific goal Monday night when his strong forecheck led to a turnover that he finished off a pass from Boyle after beating his man to the net.

“That was a pretty good goal against the Flyers, and I think that’s the kind of player that he’s going to be,” Gernander said of Thuresson. “He’s going to be an offensive player, but he’s not going to be that electrifying little guy. He’s going to be a very capable guy as far as a two-way player with offensive abilities.”

Redden and Nightingale will be paired on defense, and Chad Johnson will start in goal, with Talbot scheduled to start in the rematch Sunday. Tryout left wing Tayler Jordan has resumed skating, and defenseman Pavel Valentenko hopes to start Saturday and play in the Whale’s opener. But right wing Chad Kolarik is still nursing a knee injury sustained in Rangers training camp and is out indefinitely.

But the Whale will have an extra defenseman working out after the pregame morning skate. All-Star Marc Staal will begin rehabilitating again after missing most of training camp and four preseason games because of recurring headaches from post-concussion symptoms initiated when hit by his brother, All-Star center Eric Staal, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 22. Staal was originally scheduled to rejoin his teammates on Thursday or Friday, but that plan was scrapped as the Rangers opened the European segment of their preseason with a 2-0 win capitalizing on a strong performance by netminder Marty Biron who git the 23-save shutout over HC Sparta in Prague, Czech Republic.

When asked about Staal’s status after the game, Rangers coach John Tortorella said he, “feels better today” and the team “is hoping to get him practicing with (the Whale) on Friday. We’ll see how he reacts, and hopefully if it’s positive results, we’ll get him out here.”

Former Wolf Pack center Artem Anisimov scored the winner off assists from Tim Erixon and former Packer Brandon Dubinsky, and Ruslan Fedotenko added a power-play goal from Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan. Biron played the entire game, as Henrik Lundqvist will do Friday when he faces his former Swedish team, Frolunda, in Gothenburg. The Rangers are then scheduled to make their second round of eight or nine cuts. Those players won’t play Sunday, and then the Whale will make their cuts before Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller have four or five days to work with their lines and defensive pairings for the season opener against Adirondack.

“The whole thing is going to be bizarre for them,” Gernander said. “I’d hope everybody would be ready to go on Monday or Tuesday. Usually there’s a little more movement at different times, but because of the distance, it’ll be a little different. One of our luxuries has always been our proximity to the parent club geographically, but it’s not the case this year.”

WHALE KICKOFF SATURDAY NIGHT IN WEST HARTFORD

The Whale will host their “Whale Blue & Green Block Party” season Face-off event Saturday from 6-9 p.m. at Blue Back Square in West Hartford. It will resemble a pep rally, with introductions of the Whale players and coaching staff, who will be signing autographs.

The Face-off Fan Experience will feature live music by Hartford hockey legendary national anthem singer Tony Harrington & Touch, food specials available from local restaurants, Whale merchandise showcasing the latest apparel, outdoor movies, “Pucky” joined by other mascot friends in the Autograph Zone, prizes and the introduction of the new Whale Slap Shot Cage sponsored by XFINITY, where fans can test their puck-shooting skills. Fans also can enter to win tickets to the home opener Oct. 15 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers or a Whale replica jersey.

Admission is free and will be in the area of Blue Back Square known as “The Square” on Isham Rd. next to Barnes & Noble. … Whale season and individual game tickets are on sale. For information on season seats and all the Whale’s many ticketing options, visit www.ctwhale.com or call the Whale ticket office at 860-728-3366 to talk with an account executive. Individual tickets are on sale at Public Power ticket office at the XL Center. The Whale will play 90 percent of their 38 games at the XL Center on weekends and during vacation and holiday breaks. Tickets, starting at $14 for adults and $12 for youth, are available at the box office Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. or online at www.ctwhale.com and through TicketMasters charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. For information on season seats and mini-plans, call 860-728-3366 or visit www.ctwhale.com. … Former Wolf Pack defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, the Rangers’ first-round pick (21st overall) in 2006, was among 12 players the Carolina Hurricanes assigned to the Charlotte Checkers on Thursday. The Hurricanes now have 24 players, one over the opening-night maximum. … Former Wolf Pack wing Alex Bourret, the Atlanta Thrashers’ first-round pick (16th overall) in 2005, signed with the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League.

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