Skip to Main Content

Vokes in tune with what Devils need from him

by Lindsay Kramer
It's always easy to tell when Trenton rookie forward Matt Vokes is sitting in the DJ's chair in the Devils locker room.

Strands of old rock like U2, The Who or Bruce Springsteen blow out the door and grab the listener by the throat.

"He knows his music," Devils coach Rick Kowalsky said with admiration.

Well, that brings the number of people who hold that opinion -- Vokes and Kowalsky -- to two. Beyond that, the player who has been driving the beat of the Devils' offense the past few weeks is shunned as out of tune with the times. His teammates, who prefer music created after they were, usually box out Vokes from anywhere near the CD player.

Even goals carry no currency in this area. Vokes scored four times against Wheeling on Feb. 21, yet after that game was kept away from the controls.

"It's tough as a rookie. You want to play songs, you want to enlighten them," Vokes said. "It's tough to get air time. It's like I'm a pirate radio station in the 1970s."

Vokes makes a lot of references to the past like that, harkening back to before his 1985 birth date. It's one of the reasons his friends have given him the label as the oldest 24-year-old in the league.

He said his iPod includes songs from Harry Belafonte and Gene Vincent, a genre favored by his father, Tom. Before a contest against the Nailers earlier this season, Vokes' teammates were discussing the style of Wheeling goalie Michael-Lee Teslak.

"Tesla?" Vokes chimed in. "Isn't he the guy who invented the alternating current?"

Conversation in the room slammed into a wall while the rest of the Devils tried to figure out what to do with this alien.

"There's not a lot of average dressing room talk when Matt Vokes is around," Kowalsky said.

"Something might be wired a little differently in my brain," Vokes said.

Something about Vokes' game, however, is wired perfectly for an organization that appreciates throwback players. Vokes has 9 goals and 11 assists in 11 games in February, giving him 13 goals and 24 assists in only 36 games this season. He entered the week on an eight-game points streak for a Devils team that had won six in a row.

"In terms of development, this is a perfect place for a player like myself. I'm blessed to have fallen into a place like Trenton," he said. "They are not looking to take you in and spit you out. They take in quality, character guys."

Anyone who did their homework could tell there always has been something a little deeper about Vokes. He graduated with a degree in economics from Brown, and a couple summers ago interned at Deutsche Bank in New York City. That job came with a Blackberry, though Vokes, not exactly addicted to technological gizmos, handled it as though it was a porcupine.

"You end up not needing it because you're at your computer all the time," he said of the demands of his internship.

Vokes joined Trenton as a free agent, but hurt his right knee in the first period of his first game. When he returned in early December, he immediately showed how much he buys into the all-for-one philosophy.

Vokes scored what should have been his milestone first pro goal against Gwinnett on Dec. 9. Except teammate Justin Pender, whose shot ticked off Vokes' skates and into the net, got credit for it. Vokes never opened his mouth to ask that it go to him.

Well, that's not entirely true. Even Vokes has his price. Trenton goalie Dave Caruso had put up $75 for the game-winner, and since everyone knew Vokes had scored it, he gladly accepted the bounty.

"We had just won the game, I was $75 richer," he said.

Vokes' four-goal beauty against Wheeling actually was a five-spot. He tipped in a shot by teammate Tim Kunes, but, again, refused to push for a change when Kunes got credit.

"Another goal is always nice. But it seems a little selfish, a little narcissistic, to say we should check the tape and change the score sheet," he said. "As soon as you start thinking like that, the door starts opening up to (greediness). And that would take away from a part of the game I do well."

That would be digging up goals, a skill Vokes only lately is figuring out how to unlock. His 13 goals this season are just one fewer than he scored in his junior and senior years at Brown combined.

"It's tough as a rookie. You want to play songs, you want to enlighten them. It's tough to get air time. It's like I'm a pirate radio station in the 1970s."
-- Trenton rookie Matt Vokes

"He really understands how to get to the net. A lot of guys at this level know how to get to the net but don't stay there. He just seems to be very comfortable offensively right now," Kowalsky said. "He's definitely emerged as a second-half player. The timing is perfect for him and the team."

Even more than his scoring, Vokes said he tries to bring a certain temperament to the lineup.

"When things tend to be going frantic, it's easy to settle it down, say there's going to be another shift, there's going to be another game," he said. "I don't feel the team needs me to take risks. I'm happy with the way the season has gone. I thought there'd be growing pains. And there has been. Recently, I've been more consistent."

That often comes with experience, a factor that carries different perks. Vokes remains deferential in his role in the Devils' music patrol now. Someday soon, his production and seniority will give him a louder voice in the matter.

"It's tough to get the good music rolling," he said. "I try to keep myself in line. I'll ride it out. If I'm lucky enough to come back next year, I'll try to be more assertive in getting my air time."

View More