The man behind the mask

UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey goalie, Jay Deo, talks up about life and hockey as his time at the university winds down

More stories from Parker Reed


Photo by Kelsey Smith

Despite his calm demeanor, Deo manages to compete with a lot of ferocity on the ice.

A goalie is the last line of defense between success and imminent defeat for any hockey team. To have a dependable goalie is to have someone the entire team can fall back on, and allow them to be fearless on offense and strive for greatness.

Some programs never find a goalie they can depend on every game, but that is not the case for the UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team.

For senior goaltender, Jay Deo, hockey has been engrained in his psyche since he was born. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, hockey is their equivalent of baseball, a national pastime that is revered in the eyes of Canadians. Some of the greatest hockey players of all time were born in Canada, and one of those men was a big catalyst for Jay to begin playing hockey in the first place, Deo said.

Martin Brodeur is a former National Hockey League (NHL) goaltender from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is three-time Stanley Cup champion, a nine-time NHL all-star and is a hero of Deo’s. Due in part to his admiration for national hero, Brodeur, Deo first started playing hockey competitively when he was only 10 years old.

After years of dedication to improve his skills on the ice, Deo attended Langley Secondary School in Langley British Columbia, but opted not to play for the school. He instead decided to goaltend for various traveling hockey teams in the area before he graduated in 2010. After came the hardest decision Deo would ever have to make.

Deciding where to go to college is a very arduous process for many high school students, and Deo was no exception. However, the vast majority of incoming college students decide on their higher education institution based on the school’s academic reputation, but Deo had something else in the front of his mind.

“The reason why I wanted to attend Eau Claire was because I wanted to play on the most competitive hockey team,” Deo said. “They were defending national champions, and Eau Claire was the perfect spot.”

Eau Claire had indeed just won the NCAA Division III National Championship before Deo decided to enroll at the university. Nevertheless, the decision to attend Eau Claire was not made without some uncertainty of what was yet to come.

When Deo made the choice to come to the U.S. he was forced to leave his family, his city and biggest of all, his home country of Canada. The culture shock was huge and Deo only knew one other individual before he started his freshman year at the D3 school.

“I knew one other freshman who was recruited with me and was from Vancouver as well,” Deo said. “He was my roommate my freshman year, a guy named Troy Patterson. However, he only played here for one year. That was the only player that I knew when I came to Eau Claire.”

After Deo had endured the first few months of fall semester classes, Deo’s freshman season began and he said there was a learning curve, to say the least.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” Deo said. “It was a fun year. I was learning to manage hockey and school at the same time. That was a big thing for me to adjust to. Playing -wise, I was very fortunate to have a good team in front of me who made it really easy for me to have success on the ice.”

Deo’s freshman season served as a platform to build his confidence, as he said he learned he could be a big factor for the Blugolds night in and night out.

In addition to being a learning experience and a confidence builder, Deo said his favorite memory on the Eau Claire hockey team occurred in his freshman year in the postseason.

“My favorite memory was probably winning the WIAC championship my freshman year,” Deo said. “I stepped right into the playoffs as a freshman. Coach gave me his trust, believed in me, allowed me to play in a big pressure game for the championship, and we won it.”

Blugold sophomore defenseman, Tyler Hart, said he has noticed Deo has been a natural in front of the net since he first arrived at the university.

“He makes it look easy, to be honest with you,” Hart said. “Probably one of the better goalies I’ve ever seen. Obviously his numbers show that, and he’s a big part of our team.”
Kelsey Smith
Over the next few years, Deo had to work increasingly hard to balance school, hockey and having fun. Luckily for Deo, he had someone to look up to in that department.

“Jack Callahan was one guy that I really looked up to,” Deo said. “Jack was an all-American defenseman for us, and he was always a guy who knew how to balance fun and playing at a high level at all times. He always was a big factor in every game he played.”

In addition to growing into a better time manager as his senior year closed in on him, his personality both on and off the ice has been refined as well.

Deo describes himself as a calm person, but on the ice he is constantly working on keeping his intensity up to produce the best results he can for his teammates. That is something he  has
continued to do each day all the way up to this current season.

The 2016-17 season is proving to be an all-American caliber season for Deo. He has started all 23 of the games  he has played, and he has molded himself into a pillar of the Eau Claire team. The team currently holds a season record of 15-5-3, and 4-2 in Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) play. Now that Deo is nearing the end of his final season at Eau Claire, he said he feels a sense of urgency to commit himself entirely to being successful.

“I’m going to play my best hockey now,” Deo said. “Every game from here on out is pretty much do or die, and now that my career is winding now, I just want to leave it all out on the ice for my teammates.”

When the bookend is placed on Deo’s career, he said he won’t miss the long road trips, the tedious days of looking over film or any of the accolades he has racked up, rather he said he will miss the experiences he enjoyed with his brothers on the ice.

“I’ll miss my teammates and that feeling that we’d get after winning each game at home,” Deo said. “That’s probably the best feeling ever, being able to cherish that with my teammates.”

Even after Deo hangs up his skates, he believes the Eau Claire men’s hockey program has a very bright future. He attests his coach has done a solid job of getting the program to where it is, and it will only continue to grow after he exits the locker room for the final time.

Now that Deo is able to look back on his hockey career and time at Eau Claire, he has no doubt that the decision he made all those years ago to attend school across the border was the right decision.

“It has been the most fun I’ve had in my entire life,” Deo said. “I made a lot of great friendships here, and deciding to attend this university has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve grown as a person over the years here. I’ve become who I am, because I’ve gone here.”

When Deo walks across the stage this spring at Zorn Arena, and his hockey career has ended, he hopes to use his degree in marketing to enter a field he is truly passionate about. Deo aspires to work in the medical sales field or follow in his father’s footsteps and join him in the residential commercial industry. He said the skills he has developed as a hockey player will transfer over to the next stage of his life.