Dechaine, who remembers standing on a milk crate to reach the table, had an extraordinary gift for the sport. But he was also intensely competitive. "I used to have a little temper," he recalls. "I hated to lose."
That fire, which eventually spawned his nickname, made Dechaine a potent force from a young age. And on Friday nights, after school, he'd fan out to some of the best pool halls in the state — Spot Shot in Portland, Schemengees in Lewiston, Just 4 Fun in Bangor — to hustle with money put up by a friend.
By age 14, he'd won the Junior National Nine-Ball Championship. By 19, he'd gone pro. In 2009, he won the World Summit of Pool in Las Vegas and he was on his way — quickly shooting himself to the top of the sport.
The most marketable, and therefore most popular, game in professional pool is nine-ball — its prime virtue being speed. At its most basic, it works like this: after the break, a player must strike the lowest-numbered ball on the table, pocketing one after another until he misses and yields to the other player. His opponent picks up where he left off and goes as far as he can. Whoever pockets the nine ball wins the game. And whoever wins a certain number of games first — a "race to nine," perhaps, or a "race to 13" — wins the match.
Dechaine's is a power game and it is one of the most entertaining on the circuit. After his opponent racks the balls, he drops his head close to the diamond-shaped assemblage and inspects it like some kind of manic speed reader, frequently demanding adjustments.
His break, clocked at 37 miles per hour in an exhibition, is among the strongest in the game. And after he's scattered the balls, Dechaine stalks around the table quickly, striking the cue ball with tremendous force and skill.
"You'll see him go for a lot of ambitious shots," says Alison Fischer, editor of nycgrind.com, a pool web site, "shots that require what we [call] a lot of 'stroke' — a lot of control, but also a lot of power."
His swagger, if a source of considerable irritation for his opponents, is one of his chief assets. "Confidence is huge" in pool, says Fischer. "Being able to establish yourself as the dominant player in the match is very, very important. He's very good at doing that."
There is, though, a flipside to The Fireball's intensity. Dechaine can get visibly upset if he believes an opponent has skirted the rules or the gods of pool have conspired against him.
A couple of years ago, says Mike Howerton, founder of azbilliards.com, a leading pool site, "something would go wrong and he would immediately start looking to his buddies [in the crowd], like they're going to commiserate with him because of all the bad luck he's [having]. But as a professional pool player, that's an excuse, and once you have that excuse, you feel OK to lose."
Dechaine's biggest enemy, Howerton says, is himself. And no one is more aware of it than the player.
TO RHODE ISLAND
COOL AND COMFORTABLE Outside competition, Dechaine is a very genial character, outgoing with an easy laugh.
Four years ago, Dechaine followed a friend — Steve Santagati, a model and author of The Manual: A True Bad Boy Explains How Men Think, Date, and Mate — to Warwick.