With the news that minor league enforcer Andre Deveaux will not be charged for his on-ice attack on an opponent in Sweden in March, it looks as though the culture of violence in hockey is once again off the hook. Sometimes it seems this game avoids court scrutiny more than a Mafia kingpin.
But like the Mafia kingpin, its day will come. One of these days an assault trial involving something done on the ice is going to make it to court and the game, by extension, will be on trial.
As first reported by Sean Fitz-Gerald of The National Post, prosecutors in Sweden have decided to drop an assault case against Deveaux, not because of a lack of evidence or witnesses, but because Helsingborg prosecutor Margaretha Danielsson Olvon told the paper that Deveaux is not expected to return to the country. Deveaux left shortly after the incident.
And even though Deveaux said a concussion he suffered in a hit earlier in the series might end his career, he expects his Rogle team to fulfill its obligation to him. He said he had an agreement with the team that he would get a contract for next season if his team advanced to the SHL, which it did by winning the Allsvensken, Sweden's first division.
The 31-year-old journeyman found himself in trouble on and off the ice in March when, prior to a playoff game for Rogle in the Swedish First Division – known as the Allsvensken - Deveaux viciously attacked an opponent with his stick, an attack that went viral on social media and led to him being let go by his team, being suspended by the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation until February, 2016 and being charged in absentia with assault.
Deveaux said he has cooperated with authorities in Sweden "since Day 1" and reached out the prosecutors three times to let them know he would cooperate. But when asked why he bolted the country after it happened, which basically meant he was not available to them, Deveaux said he couldn't comment on that. "I might be able to later," he said.
During warmups prior to a playoff game against Vasteras, Deveaux is seen at the bench speaking with an assistant coach, then, without warning, turns and attacks Vasteras captain Per Helmersson, chopping him down with a baseball swing before jumping on his back. Deveaux, who hired a high-profile Swedish lawyer and a Toronto PR firm to handle his case, later said it was to protect himself against threats he had received from Vasteras players during the warmup, but then accused his team of misdiagnosing a concussion he received when he was hit from behind into the boards by Helmersson in a previous game.
So which one was it? Was Deveaux of clear mind when he attacked Helmersson, supposedly for his own safety, which he suggested? Or was his judgment clouded because the effects of a concussion that he claims was misdiagnosed by his employer? Well, we’ll never know because there will be no trial and nobody will have to get on a witness stand and talk about it.
We’ll never really find out why, if Deveaux was so concerned about a concussion, he suited up for the game in the first place. We do know that a high-ranking official with the Swedish Ice Hockey Association who investigated the incident claims Deveaux misled his team about his injury. “He told us that he deliberately misled his team and that he was ready to go,” Alexander Ramsey, the chairman of the federation’s disciplinary committee told thn.com in early May. “He said he wanted to secure a contract for the following season and him getting a new contract was dependent on (Rogle gaining entry into the Elite League).”
Deveaux said Ramsey's statement is "stretching the truth," but, again, said he could not give details.
"I would love to clarify that. God that makes me angry," he said. "But I've had three doctors here in Canada who had nothing to do with this case say that it should have been pretty obvious I had a serious head injury. My neurologist (Dr. Daniel Chet-Ti Wong of Toronto) has said with this kind of injury, you have to take what the athlete says with a grain of salt."
Back home in May, Deveaux said he had been diagnosed by three doctors and a neurologist as having a concussion and said he collapsed while visiting his brother and had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance.
There’s no reason to disbelieve Deveaux when he says he was concussed on the hit by Helmersson. But if it wasn’t a factor and he attacked Helmersson ostensibly to strike first to preserve his own safety, it would have been helpful to see what a court of law would have thought of that. And if it was because of his judgment being clouded due of what he claims was a misdiagnosed/ignored concussion, that would be very valuable to know as well.
When asked that question directly, Deveaux didn't have a clear answer. "All I can tell you is it's a terrible feeling when you feel like no one is going to protect you and you feel threatened."
But we’ll probably never find out because, like so many other cases like this before it, there will be no day in court for those involved to speak about what happened under oath. And that’s a shame. Deveaux’s own lawyer, who represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on molestation charges in Sweden, trotted out the well-worn argument that what happens on the ice, stays on the ice. “This case should be treated in sport,” said Leif Silbersky. “It is not a case for the court.”