Hockey alums wear same pro uniform

Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Three former men’s hockey players — Matt Vokes ’09, Jeff Prough ’08 and Chris Poli ’08 — have kept in touch better than most graduates. The three alums play for the East Coast Hockey League’s Trenton Devils, a professional team owned by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. 

All three alums are forwards but rarely play on the same line. They do, however, see each other plenty off the ice.

Vokes and Prough are roommates in Trenton, and Poli lives next door.

“It’s a fun atmosphere,” Vokes said. “Its easy to make the transition from college to the pros when you have close friends looking out for you.”

“We do stuff after practice together,” Prough said. “It’s nice having two guys you went to college with.”

Vokes said he is enjoying the lifestyle of a professional hockey player.

“You have a lot of freedom and time to pursue outside interests,” Vokes said, mentioning that he does a considerable amount of reading at local bookstores.

Vokes said it is no coincidence that three Brown alums ended up in Trenton. Chris Lamoriello, the team’s general manager, played for Providence College, where his father Lou was longtime head coach and athletic director. With strong ties to Providence, the Lamoriellos regularly scout PC and Brown games and have recruited many athletes to the Devils in recent years.

It has worked out well for the Devils.

After an early-season injury, Vokes has recovered and has been on fire lately, currently leading the Devils in assists. He assisted on three goals in Trenton’s Feb. 20 win at Johnstown, only to score four of his own the very next day against the Wheeling Nailers — his first professional hat trick.

“He really understands how to get to the net,” Trenton Head Coach Rick Kowalsky told earlier this month. “He just seems to be very comfortable offensively right now.”

Vokes scored nine goals and eleven assists in just 11 games, earning him Reebok Hockey ECHL Rookie of the Month for February. Of the nine, three were game winners.

In his Brown days, Vokes played 115 games for the Bears and scored 28 goals. He was assistant captain his senior year and the recipient of the Joe Tomasello Award, presented annually by the New England Hockey Writers Association to the “unsung hero in New England.”

“We didn’t necessarily win a lot, but we had a lot of fun,” he said.

Vokes concentrated in economics and interned at Deutsche Bank after his junior year. He turned down a full-time job for a chance to play professional hockey.

“Finance is always going to be there,” he said. “Millions of kids want the opportunity to play hockey in the pros, and I was fortunate to have that opportunity.”

“It would have been foolish not to give it a shot,” he added, without a hint of regret.

The ever-selfless Vokes was quick to note that teammates Prough and Poli have also been playing well. Prough is the team’s leading scorer with 27 goals, and Poli has posted 37 points in just 31 games.

Prough, meanwhile, was eighth on Brown’s all-time scoring list with 109 points. He led the Bears in scoring in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08.

He began his ECHL career with the Florida Everblades and was traded to Trenton last season after a brief stint with the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Poli signed with the Devils just days after his last collegiate game in 2008. 

“My dream since I was a little kid was to play in the NHL, and that hasn’t changed,” Prough said. “So going pro really wasn’t a hard choice for me.”

On Tuesday, The Herald reported that the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL signed current tri-captain Aaron Volpatti ’10 to a two-year contract. Volpatti, who led the Bears with 17 goals this season, will begin his career next year with the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks’ AHL franchise.

Freshman defenseman Rich Crowley ’13 said the team looks up to its alums playing in the ECHL, AHL, and beyond.

“We all aspire to go pro,” he said.

Prough said he was able to watch a couple Brown games this year while he was temporarily called up to Lowell, Mass. — the Devils’ AHL franchise — in late November.

“The ECHL is a good developmental league,” Prough said. “It’s competitive, and a lot of guys are getting called up to the AHL and NHL.”

“I’m hoping that next year, I’ll make it to the AHL full time,” he added. “From there, you’re one step away.”

Vokes said he is happy with the way his rookie season has gone and is becoming a better player in Trenton, but is unsure if he will ever make it to the NHL.

“I take life one day at a time,” he explained. “If that’s the way the course goes, then great. If not, I have my Brown education to fall back on.”

“And in case you’re wondering,” he added, “Yes, Professor (Emeritus of Engineering Barrett) Hazeltine, we’re still friends.”

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