by Jeff Mannix || AHL On The Beat Archive
On Monday at the Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland Pirates defenseman Dean Arsene pulled on his number 29 jersey emblazoned with the captain’s “C”.
Not out of the ordinary for the 31-year-old veteran, who is in his 10th season in the American Hockey League. Over a career that has brought him to five AHL cities, Monday’s game was just like any other. But this coming weekend, Arsene knows it will be different.
This Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester, if all goes to plan, Arsene will skate in his 500th career AHL game.
“It’s shocking me to that I’ve played this many games,” Arsene says of nearing the milestone. “When I first started playing, I was just trying to break into the league. To be able have played professionally this long is a real accomplishment.”
Arsene went undrafted after a five-year junior career in the Western Hockey League. After helping his Kootenay Ice teammates win the WHL championship in 2001, Arsene grinded out a season with the Charlotte Checkers in the ECHL in 2001-02.
He got his first shot at the AHL level during the 2002-03 season, when he played 50 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack.
“As an undrafted player, I had to work for everything I got,” Arsene says. “It’s been difficult at times, but I’ve had some really great moments and gotten to play for some really great teams.”
Arsene’s next stop proved his longest so far. During the 2003-04 season, Arsene landed with the Hershey Bears. He would spend six seasons there, winning two Calder Cups and having a huge impact on the community.
“Hershey is like a second home to me,” Arsene says. “I was fortunate to get to spend six years of my career getting to play for one of the best organizations in the league. I’ve made lots of friends there, both inside the organization and in the community.”
Arsene was so popular, he earned the nickname “Mayor of Chocolatetown.”
Besides being a leader on the ice, Arsene got involved in community charitable efforts, especially those involving children.
“You never say ‘no’ when someone asks you to see sick kids in the hospital,” Arsene says. “It’s a small amount of time out of your day, and it brings so much happiness to the kids. I really enjoy interacting with them. I’m always happy to do it.”
Arsene has done it in his new home as well, accompanying teammates to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital on multiple occasions during the season.
The Murrayville, B.C., native has become known as a leader. Arsene has been named captain of a total of four AHL teams, wearing the “C” for the Bears, the Springfield Falcons, the Peoria Rivermen and now the Pirates.
“It’s humbling,” Arsene says. “It means a lot to me that the coaching staffs of each team think enough of you to give you the opportunity to be a captain. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it has its ups and downs, but I’ve learned something from every team I’ve been the captain of. I relish the opportunity to lead and teach young players.”
From each stop, Arsene says he’s gotten something positive. He remembers Springfield because he got his first — and to date his only — call-up to the National Hockey League when he played 13 games for the Edmonton Oilers during the 2009-10 season.
He says his experience in Peoria was wonderful because it gave him a chance to play in the Western Conference for the first time and see new cities and venues.
As for his new home in Portland, Arsene says he loves it.
“I’ve never eaten better in my career,” he says. “There’s a lot of good restaurants in town and my wife and I have gone to a lot of them. But there’s so many, you just can’t get to all of them.
“Portland was always one of my favorite places to play as a visiting player,” Arsene says. “Now that I’ve gotten a chance to play here [as a Pirate], it’s been a tremendous experience. It’s really a hockey town. The fans expect you to win and they know their hockey. As a player, it makes you want to compete hard for them.”
Arsene also says the friendships he’s made through the years are another highlight of his career so far. He counts current teammate Nathan Oystrick, whom he also played with last season in Peoria, as one of his closest friends. Arsene also says he’s developed close ties with former teammates Graham Mink, Chad Wiseman, Jeff Finger, Brennan Evans and Andrew Gordon over the years.
As Arsene nears the 500-game mark for his AHL career, he says he wants to stay in pro hockey a lot longer.
“I hope I get to play another 500 games,” he says. “I get paid to play a game. I don’t think there’s any better job than this.”