Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Arsene finally lives his dream

During his six-year term in Chocolatetown, Dean Arsene was one of the most popular players on the team each year due to his no frills, blood and guts style of play on the ice, and his pleasant, approachable demeanor away from the rink.

A by-product of Arsene’s enormous popularity in Hershey was him being tagged with the title “The Mayor of Hershey” for the way he could charm and handle a crowd of any size with his rugged good looks and witty ways.

While also called a “warrior” and “ultimate team player” during his Hershey tenure, there was one thing he was never called during that timeframe: NHL player. That fact led to his difficult decision last summer to leave the Bears and sign with the Edmonton Oilers for a chance to fulfill the dream that had eluded him.

“From a personal standpoint, I did not want to leave. I think that I very easily could have re-signed with the Bears and probably could have played out the rest of my career there; I loved Hershey. I had a lot of great memories there, obviously winning, but even outside of the game as well. I became close with a lot of people there, and it was tough to leave.”

“From a career standpoint, I was kind of getting up in age and didn’t know how many opportunities I would have to sign with a club and get a shot to play in the NHL. That was the number one factor in my ultimate decision, to try to get to the NHL, and thankfully that came true this year.”

Fortunately for Arsene, but unfortunately, for the many Bears’ fans that grew to adore him and his style of play, he missed his chance to return to Giant Center as a visitor earlier this season because of his first recall to the NHL.

Recently, when the Bears journeyed to Springfield to face the Falcons, Arsene finally got his chance to skate against many of the players that he grew close to during his stay in Hershey, and he said it was not difficult to put aside personal relationships and take care of the business of hockey.

“It wasn’t tough to play against these guys. It was one of those games where we knew how much firepower they have there. I know that especially well, and I tried to tell the guys that if we didn’t come out hard, we would be in for a tough battle, and we don’t want to get embarrassed at home.”
Making the occasion ever sweeter for Arsene, he netted his first goal of the season at the Bears’ expense, with a helping hand from former teammate Keith Aucoin, who deftly deflected Arsene’s shot into his own net.

“My defensive partner shot it around the boards, and I saw it was coming off the boards with a lot of spin. I was thinking that if I tried to handle it, I might lose it, so I just tried to throw it on net because I knew we had guys in the crease area. I saw it go off Aucoin’s stick and between Holtby’s legs.

“To get a goal for me anytime is pretty special, but to be able to get one against my former club felt pretty good, I’m not going to lie. I was schocked initially. I was like, ‘oh my goodness, I just scored’, and I was pretty pumped about it.”

The Springfield and Hershey franchises are two of the most storied in the AHL, with the two cities combining for 17 Calder Cups, and while Arsene had had the pleasure of captaining both, they are some substantial differences, particularly with this year’s edition of the Falcons.

“It’s been extremely difficult at times this year,” he confessed. “We went through a spell earlier this season where we lost 17 in a row. That’s just unheard of, to be quite honest, not just for me, but for anybody. I had a very difficult time with it at the start of the year. It’s very frustrating when you’re losing games. It took a big adjustment and I think I learned a lot this year in terms of trying to stay positive.

“Positive reinforcement goes a long way, especially with a young team like us. We have guys who never made the playoffs and have never won, and I try to build them up instead of tearing them down. It’s so easy to get negative. Staying positive has been a big learning experience.”

Arsene continued, “When you get used to winning, it’s an addiction really. I think this year, with us losing, the team missing playoffs for so many years; it’s a lot harder with a younger team, to get them to do the little things. There are so many little things that make the difference in a hockey game and often those little things are the difference between winning and losing.”

“Typically in Hershey, we had older teams, and you didn’t have to say a lot. Guys knew their job and they’re prepared mentally every night and they’re going to go out and work hard. It wasn’t so much where you had to get on guys in Hershey; you just tried to keep the peace and bring the team closer together.”

Even when dreams are fulfilled, as was the case when Arsene received his initial recall earlier this season, there can be the devil in the details, such as when Arsene was poised to make his NHL debut in Atlanta. Arsene’s parents flew in from Canada to witness the occasion, but unfortunately for them and their son, he was scratched from the game.

“They flew to Atlanta because they thought I was going to be playing and we played the next night in Columbus, so they were actually on the plane back home when I played my first game. It was just too much money to try to globetrot across the country, so they weren’t able to do it. I was scheduled to play one game in Edmonton, and they made the trip for that one, but I sat out that one too. They haven’t seen me play in the NHL in person; but they have watched me on TV.”

When you’ve been through many trying situations like Arsene has endured in his pro career, like the major injuries and countless hours of rehab spent in trying to make it back, getting scratched for your pro debut can you’re your head spinning with thoughts, and not good ones.

“When I didn’t play the first game, I thought for a second that I might just get sent back down without playing a game. Thankfully, they kept me up and I was able to play the very next game. That was a big load off of my shoulders, because I was sweating it there when I sat out the first game.”

Finally, after years--and a day--of waiting, the native of British Columbia, who was never drafted, finally made his NHL debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 16th.

“I thought I was going to be really nervous, and had some anxiety in the dressing room more than anything, but once I got on the ice I was able to put everything else aside and go out there and play the game. My best memory of it was just being out there and being with the guys. Everything was top notch, and was everything I dreamt it would be; it was a special moment.”

Currently on his third recall to the Oilers, Arsene undoubtedly has a few admirers in high places in the organization, so a return to the Oilers is not out of the question for the 29-year-old defenseman.

“I’m just signed for this year, so we’ll re-evaluate this summer if they’re interested and to see what happens. Obviously, I’ve made some in-roads with them as far as getting a chance up and I had a lot of positive feedback from the coaching staff and management of what I did up there.”

It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Arsene certainly seems like a person who left at least part of his heart in Central Pennsylvania, as evidenced by his extensive answer about what one thing he misses most about playing in Hershey.

“I can’t just pick one thing, there are so many--the fans, the building, the people within the organization, the teammates, and just the town itself. It’s an endless answer. It’s one of those things where it’s every little part of Hershey that makes a tremendous difference. I’d love to come back. It’s a place I’ll always hold dear to my heart. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up there next year or in the years to come.”

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