Catching up with: Sylvain Deschatelets
French Canadian forward Sylvain Deschatelets had a strange time of it in the British Elite League.
It all started in 2007 when the Blainville, Quebec native joined the Cardiff Devils following a year in Italy. Just over a month of the season had passed, with Cardiff struggling it was the centreman of over 200 ECHL games and 190 points who was singled out and handed his two week's notice by then coach of the Devils, Gerad Adams.
Not to be deterred though, Sylvain elected to play out the notice period, something which the club acknowledged "showed great character and professionalism." Suddenly, the Devils' and Deschatelets form dramatically improved, to the point where the Welsh side couldn't afford to lose the WCHL Taylor Cup Champion.
"When I arrived in the UK for my first year in Cardiff I was coming back from a big knee injury and it took me a while to get back in real game shape," explained Deschatelets. "That's probably why I got released after a couple of weeks. I was given a two-week notice period so I got the chance to play a couple more games and that's when I started producing and I never looked back! Cardiff didn't have much choice but to keep me and I went on to finish with the most points on the team," Sylvain smiled.
26 goals, 62 assists for 88 points - 7th best in the Elite League, despite some personal success, not least proving early doubters wrong, Deschatelets first Elite League season ended in disappointment with the Devils finishing sixth and being knocked out of the playoffs by eventual winners Sheffield Steelers at the semi-final stage.
"We went top of the league after a long unbeaten run and it was such a pity we could not win a trophy, recalled the then 27-year-old. "In the end injuries hit us too hard, but we had a team who could have won something."
Lifting trophies was something the Coventry Blaze were doing on a regular basis back in 2007 and as Deschatelets felt dissatisfaction with his club's season, the Blaze led by their Captain Sylvain Cloutier were hoisting a back-to-back Elite League Championship.
Following the success, Cloutier, chasing a coaching career was to leave Coventry for Corpus Christi of the now defunct CHL leaving Head Coach Paul Thompson to turn to the 6’2” Devils man.
“I still don’t know why Cardiff never offered me a contract the next year but Paul Thompson had spoken to my good friends Sammy Nasreddine and Trevor Koenig who I played with in San Diego back in the ECHL when we won the cup and they had good words for me. Coventry offered me a contract and I was really proud to play for such a successful club with great players like Calder and Carlson amongst others! From the first day in Coventry they welcomed me into the group right away. I only have good words for the Blaze organisation. The only thing I regret is that we didn’t win a trophy because we had a great team.”
Deschatelets divided opinion amongst Blaze fans but what couldn’t be argued was his production - 81 points in 57 games whilst also fighting five times, most memorably perhaps against Sheffield Steelers’ Steve Munn at the Skydome Arena as both men left it all out on the ice, battling on the final-buzzer.
Only Adam Calder whose number 25 jersey sits in the rafters at the Skydome scored more points than Sylvain in a season which included a particular highlight, a game-tying goal in the dying seconds against the Manchester Phoenix, capping a comeback from 6-3 down, a game which saw new Blaze Head Coach Danny Stewart score in overtime to seal a remarkable 7-6 win.
Asked how he feels his former teammate will get on in his return to Coventry, Deschatelets comments:
“I think he will be great for the club. He was well respected and knows the history of the club. He knows the game and is a true winner. I don’t know him as a coach but back then, I knew he would be a coach one day because of his character and the way he talked in the room. I wish him good luck and a lot of success in Coventry.”
It was just a single season in the Midlands for Sylvain who departed for North America following the 2007/08 campaign where he has remained to this day.
“After the Coventry year I was near 30 years-old and had young kids,” said Deschatelets. “I decided to come back home to start my after career and had a chance to still play hockey and work at the same time.”
Aside from brief spells in the CHL and FHL, Deschatelets has plied his trade in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (LNAH) since leaving Coventry, a place where the likes of Sean McMorrow, Alex Penner, Ryan Hand and Jason Rushton have spent significant time, naturally earning the league it’s notorious reputation.
“The LNAH has been thought of as a goon league over the years but not anymore,” Sylvain argues. “I would say for the past 3 or 4 years the league is getting so much stronger, a lot younger and really fast! There are still 1 or 2 ‘goons’ per team but those guys can play the game, not like it used to be. There’s a lot of talent in the league and guys who were drafted in the NHL.”
Over 225 games in the LNAH now, Deschatelets currently finds himself icing for Rivière-du-Loup 3L (RDL) based in Quebec where this past season he led the club to a first Championship.
“It’s been my 4th season in RDL and it’s been great. The fans are just amazing and it’s really a love story with this town! Especially this year I will remember all my life. Being the captain of the team and because we have been eliminated in the first-round for the first 3 years that I’ve been here. I had a lot of pressure on my back, but that’s when I feel I perform to my best. The last championship won in RDL was 30 years ago, and I knew with the group we had that we could make it and win a championship together. I had a dream year!”
Not only did Deschatelets captain his club to the elusive championship, something which earned him the ‘Best Leadership’ award, he was also Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.
“We had over 3,500 people every game during the playoff run, it was just awesome for the town. The final playoffs round was simply the best hockey. Three games were decided in overtime. One took over six periods! I finished with 35 points in games, I was very happy to be named MVP but the championship was the most important.”
Having played across numerous ECHL cities and had experiences in some of the best European hockey leagues, the well-travelled Deschatelets, now 36 is well placed to offer some comparisons.
“There is not much difference to hockey in North America and Europe. You have more time to make plays in Europe because it’s bigger ice and it’s a little more physical in North America. Like I said earlier you guys would be really surprised how good the LNAH is now. Most of the guys who play on the top-two lines either dominated in Europe or ECHL or played in the AHL for a long time.”
On top of hockey Sylvain works as a Sales Manager for an insurance company. Married with two kids, a 5-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl, he says he hopes to visit the UK and Coventry again.
“Me and Russ Cowley get along really well, the same with Danny Stewart. I know he retired this year and had a great career in the UK. I saw Adam Calder’s jersey retirement and I feel really privileged that I had a chance to play on the same line as him. What a great player he was! Dan Carlson too. I really want to thank everyone in the UK for the two years that I played there. I enjoyed every minute of it and hopefully one day I will come and say hi.”
Thanks to Sylvain for his time and we send many congratulations on winning the championship and for his personal success.
Article: Craig Summerton (@block15blaze)