The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has produced some of the finest hockey talent in the world. As part of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), “The Q” is a league where only the most talented and dedicated hockey players can play.

This year, one of those players is Deverick Ottereyes. Raised for the large part in Waswanipi, the soft-spoken 17-year-old with sharp sense of humour is a regular in the lineup this season with the PEI Rocket. But, as is the case with any player at his level, the road to The Q was not an easy one. Prior to a recent PEI Rocket game versus the Victoriaville Tigres, currently the #4 ranked major Junior team in Canada, Ottereyes talked to the Nation about some of the challenges he and his family have faced in support of his hockey dream.

“My mother is from Waswanipi and my father from Chisasibi,” said Ottereyes. “I mostly grew up in Waswinipi because it was closer to Chibougamau, and closer to where they play a higher level of hockey.”

Ottereyes’ first opportunity to play hockey at a high level came with the Chibougamau Ambassadeurs, where he was coached by Daniel Bérubé. But playing in Chibougamau meant that Ottereyes had to leave home at an early age.

“We decided that I would play in Chibougamau so that I could improve my game. That was the first time that I left home. At first, my parents drove back and forth, but that was difficult for them because they had jobs. Once I was in Pee Wee, I decided to move to Chibougamau by myself. I was 12 or 13 and I was billeting. It was difficult because I was still young, and at that age you still need your parents.”

Ottereyes’ hockey path would eventually lead him to Amos, where he played Midget AAA with the Amos Forestiers.

“I played my first year of midget in Midget Espoir. I was supposed to play in Amos, but I chose to stay in Midget Espoir to get more ice team. I eventually had to go to Amos for one year to get drafted into the QMJHL, and I think it was the right decision.”

Part of that right decision included decisions about Ottereyes’ education. While in Amos, Ottereyes got involved with the Quebec Ministry of Education’s Sport-Études program, which is fast becoming an important part of the development process for young hockey players in Quebec. The program is designed to assist student-athletes continue their athletic development at an elite level while continuing to achieve at a high level in the high-school classroom.

“Sport-Études is a great program to improve hockey,” says Ottereyes. “During the day you can play hockey and in the evening you can train.”

Ottereyes is continuing his schooling while in PEI and is happy with the new environment he has found there.

“In PEI, it is great. My education is very good in PEI because I get to go to a regular school. In Amos, I had to do home schooling, but in PEI I get to go to a regular school with the guys on the team,” Ottereyes explains.

However, the jump to The Q can have an impact on a young player’s academic focus, as Ottereyes has discovered.

“It is definitely a big difference between PEI and Amos because we do so much travelling. For example, this week I miss a whole week of school. But we are given schoolwork to do while we are on the road. We are always given time every day by the team to do homework. But, it is difficult when you are injured or when you are playing three games on the road.”

Gord Dwyer, coach of the PEI Rocket, understands the challenges of balancing hockey and school. The former Montreal Canadiens defenceman also played in the QMJHL prior to launching his NHL career.

“One of the biggest things, one of the bright sides of playing Major Junior Hockey today is the structure of the education – the opportunity for the players to have their education looked after,” said Dwyer.

“Whether it is high school or post-secondary, in English or French, the league really supports it and they offer opportunities to players to carry on their education after they finish in the league with scholarship programs.”

For Ottereyes, school is definitely part of his future, with his intention to attend the University of PEI in a couple years.

“As any kid, I would like to be in the NHL and have my own business,” says Ottereyes. “But, I also want to go to university. That’s my goal to get a university degree, in politics or become a lawyer maybe.”

School has not been the only difference that Ottereyes has seen since joining the Rocket. The higher level of play has also presented him with challenges.

“This summer I was drafted in the 8th round. Being drafted just made me work harder. So definitely, the big challenge here is the level of hockey. It’s the CHL; it’s the top of Junior hockey. It is a huge jump for any rookie, any guy to make. It’s not like Midget. Every guy on the team is good, and you have to battle for your spot every day.”

Dwyer admits that the PEI Rocket had their eye on Ottereyes for some time prior to the draft.

“Deverick is a player who we heard about prior to the draft. We heard that he had tremendous upside, skated very well, has tremendous character and brings a lot of grit to the rink. We got him the 8th round and were very fortunate to get him,” explains Dwyer, who is also in his rookie year as a QMJHL coach.

“We got him to training camp and were very impressed with him right from the start. He has a tremendous sense of humour and is a great individual. He’s got a bit of a spark in his eyes and is a great athlete. He came to camp well conditioned, skates very well, and plays well on the defensive side of the puck,” said Dwyer.

“We’re in a youth movement right now with our team and Deverick is one of the core young guys on it. We’re looking forward to him developing in our program and in our team culture and we’re looking forward to having him here for the next four years.”

It is important to note that school and hockey are not Ottereyes’ only passions. And hockey is not his only game. When he is not on the ice or in the gym, you are most likely to find Ottereyes on one of the many golf courses located in PEI.

“I love playing golf,” says Ottereyes. “And I am loving the south right now, with all the great golf courses around. That is one of the reasons why I would like to stay in PEI for a while.”

While Ottereyes is enjoying the results of his hard work and time Down East, he still misses his home and family.

“It has not been a real shock (moving to PEI) because I have been living away for a long time now. The difficult part is being 24 hours away from home,” says Ottereyes, after a long pause.

“I’ve been getting a lot of support from the people back home. And, I’d like to say thank you to my parents, and to any guys who have supported me.”

However, there is one thing that Ottereyes misses above everything else. “Thanks to everyone back home, and send me some caribou meat!” he says with a big laugh.

There is little doubt that his family and many fans will be happy to share a caribou steak with Ottereyes when he does finally make it back home.