By Braden Schenck, Media Relations Intern


Just last spring, Nick DeVito was sitting in the Roanoke locker room, lacing up his skates and playing a vital role in helping the Rail Yard Dawgs hoist their first-ever President’s Cup Trophy as a forward for the SPHL’s defending champions.

Fast forward nearly a year later, and now the Dawgs are once again gearing up for what they hope is another deep postseason run. Many familiar figures still remain around the Roanoke locker room, including DeVito. However, this time around, DeVito’s impact will be made from the bench – as an assistant coach, not as a player.

The 28-year-old decided to trade in the jersey and helmet for a suit and tie before the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, which was his second campaign in the SPHL with Roanoke.

“I kind of knew throughout the year that I was going to be done. I think it was just my body culminating with my career besides hockey,” DeVito said. “I knew I was kind of done, and I think that postseason was kind of like my last hurrah.” 


DeVito lifted the President’s Cup following Roanoke’s 2-1 overtime win over Birmingham in Game Four. He led all SPHL players in the postseason for goals and points. (Photo Credit: Keith Lucas)

As far as ‘last hurrahs’ can go, DeVito’s last month as a player was extraordinary. The Averill Park, New York native lit the SPHL on fire during the 2023 President’s Cup Playoffs, putting up a league-best six goals and 11 points during the nine-game miracle run from the Dawgs to secure the franchise’s first-ever title, and the first hockey championship in the Roanoke market since the Virginia Lancers in 1987.

“DeVito was always a player that came up in clutch moments for Roanoke, but his performance in the playoffs last year was other-worldly,” said Roanoke’s media manager/broadcaster Mitch Stewart. “He (DeVito) was a driving force in that title run by the Dawgs, especially in the Peoria series when he scored five goals between Games Two and Three on the road. If there’s ever an example of somebody ‘going out on top’ in their respective career, DeVito’s final weeks as a professional hockey player were extraordinary.”

Not only did the President’s Cup cap off a great season by the Dawgs, but it was a storybook ending to the 110 combined regular season and playoff games that DeVito had suited up in as a player for Roanoke.

“This year, I first wanted to bring him back as a player because he had an awesome year and an awesome playoff run,” said Roanoke head coach Dan Bremner. “But he was pretty clear that the fire of playing was kind of burnt out in him, but he still had a passion for the game and really wanted to be involved.”

As the offseason got in full swing, the coaches’ office was getting ready to welcome in a familiar face. In late September, the Rail Yard Dawgs announced that Nick DeVito was appointed as an assistant coach ahead of the 2023-2024 season, and DeVito set about making his transition from key player to a coach who can contribute to Bremner’s system. 

“We wanted to make sure we did our due diligence on it, just seeing how the room felt about him stepping into a coaching role,” Bremner said. “We knew as long as he approached it the right way, then it was going to be well accepted. I think he’s done it the right way, the guys love him, and to have his point of view is so valuable here.”


DeVito always had a knack for scoring goals in crunch-time. This goal gave Roanoke a third period lead during Game Three of the 2023 President’s Cup Final against Birmingham, a 5-4 overtime win by the Dawgs. (Photo Credit: Michele Hancock)




Just in his first season in the Star City on the coaching staff, DeVito has made meaningful connections and added his own coaching style to the Dawgs team. Working with Roanoke’s forwards, many of which he played alongside of, the Dawgs’ offense has scored a franchise-record 197 goals this season, the highest mark across the SPHL. Roanoke’s leading scorer CJ Stubbs has long-lasting ties with DeVito, dating way back before their journey in Roanoke began. The two first crossed paths at Morrisville State College back in 2016 playing under head coach Kevin Krogol.

A few years later following his own debut year in Roanoke during the 2019-2020 season, Stubbs continued to try and recruit his old college buddy to join him in the Star City. While the reunion was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an early ECHL stint for DeVito during the 2021-2022 campaign, the five-foot-nine forward eventually donned the blue and gold sweater.

“He’s just got a good hockey mind to him, and I knew it (coaching) was something he definitely could be good at,” Stubbs said. “The way we talk about things is a little bit different now, but it’s still nice to lean on him and have more of the player-coach type conversations.”

Stubbs wasn’t the only forward to adjust from the teammate dynamic to the player-coach relation. Long-time Dawgs defenseman Matt O’Dea shared the ice with DeVito for the last two years, and sees his old teammate’s new role as a different coaching experience than what he’s been used to.

“At times, you’re almost hypnotized trying to remember everything a coach tells you… but when it’s your buddy that you’ve known for two years talking to you and telling you about the game, that’s exactly how it feels,” said O’Dea. “It just feels like one of your old conversations, and that can make it a little bit easier to grasp onto things.”

The player-coach relationships that DeVito has with the players on the team is unlike any other relationship on the staff.

“I still think of myself as a peer to them – we won a championship together,” DeVito explained. “So I think for me, it’s more just suggestions of different options for them. I don’t ever come down on them. That’s not my job. I try to help them see different opportunities and different options on the ice and try to help them that way with that style of coaching.”


DeVito celebrates a goal with Matt O’Dea, as well as two of his former college teammates at Morrisville State – CJ Stubbs and Chris Vella. Roanoke went on to beat Evansville 4-0 in this game back on December 18, 2021. (Photo Credit: Mark Sawyer)

That style of coaching has been very quickly noticed by players on the team. From former teammates of DeVito’s like O’Dea and Stubbs, to newer additions to the team this year such as rookie forward Greg Smith, DeVito brings the same mentality and same approach to the coaching role.

“I’ve been here a few weeks and he showed me the ropes a little bit, and he’s just been a great support piece there on the bench and off the ice as well,” said Smith, who recently returned to school to complete his bachelor’s degree. “He’s always a guy you love to be with around the rink.”

Smith and DeVito’s paths go all the way back to 2014 when the two played on the OJHL’s Wellington Dukes, alongside of fellow Dawg Aidan Girduckis.

“He’s definitely grown up a lot… I was a 16-year-old when I first met him (DeVito was 20), and I was first playing with him,” Smith continued. “It had been five or six years since I last saw him, and he’s grown up a lot. He still loves being around the rink and conversing with the guys. So I guess not too much has changed, but we’ve both come a long way.”

DeVito’s outgoing personality and prior relationships certainly helped lay the foundation for the ease in his transition from player to coach, but Stewart says that the confidence and intelligence of DeVito has aided in the move as well.

“DeVito is a really, really sharp guy… in a lot of ways,” Stewart chuckled. “When you’re all just messing around and hanging out, you can’t slip up around him or he’ll find a way to give you a hard time. But there aren’t many people that are as focused or as dialed in on the details as Nick when it’s time to be serious, and his knowledge of the game and his strong communication skills certainly demand the attention of whoever he’s talking to. I think he’s been able to make his move from playing to coaching really smoothly because of those traits.”

It doesn’t hurt that DeVito is, and always has been, an extremely competitive person.

“Oh, he might not be playing anymore, but there is no question how much DeVito wants to win,” Stewart continued. “Or even more, how much him and Dan (Bremner) hate to lose. Those two will do anything and everything possible to make sure this team has the best possible chances to win. That translates very quickly through the locker room, and it’s a big reason why the ‘Dawgs Hockey’ culture is so entrenched here.”


Now as an assistant coach for the Dawgs, DeVito walks in the middle of (left-to right) athletic trainer Travis Johns, head coach Dan Bremner, assistant coach Ian Roberts, and equipment manager Josh Pentico during Roanoke’s 5-4 comeback win in overtime over Birmingham back on January 5, 2024. (Photo Credit: Weslie Rouse)

In his new role as an assistant coach, DeVito has also played an instrumental role in recruiting the next wave of Rail Yard Dawgs. Through watching countless hours of game film and scouting, he was able to aid Bremner in successfully bringing in contributors like Smith and Girduckis this spring. As the season has progressed, DeVito has settled in and adapted to his new role and duties in the coaching office. 

“I think throughout this season, it’s started to really grow and I’m becoming more of my style of coach,” DeVito remarked. “And Brems (Bremner) has really helped me along on that. He just expected so much of me. And anytime somebody expects a lot of you, you know that they care about you. So I’m just thankful for him for giving me the opportunity.”

As the Rail Yard Dawgs prepare for another postseason journey, it’s going to take everybody’s best efforts if the team wants to keep the Cup. And while DeVito might not be dominating opposing defensemen for the various SPHL contenders on the ice next month, his presence will be felt from the bench as he uses his championship experience to try and push Roanoke across the finish line. Only now, he’ll be pushing the Dawgs with dress shoes on his feet instead of skates.



Featured Image Credit: Katelynn Lovell // LegacyMaker Sports Network