by Dave Salter || AHL On The Beat Archive
The pro hockey world is a small one. Players quickly gain reputations – some good, some bad – that tend to stay with them throughout their careers.
Sometimes these reputations are based more on attitude than skill level, but they often play a role in a player’s movement from team to team. Some players come with “baggage” or bad attitudes. Others are known as “great guys in the room,” serving as an extension of the coaching staff on the ice.
Dean Arsene falls into the latter group. His reputation as one of the top leaders in the American Hockey League is widespread and one of the primary reasons the St. John’s IceCaps signed the 32-year-old defenseman this off-season.
“His leadership is really good and his competiveness in practice and the games is really top notch,” says IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge. “He obviously helps our younger guys, which is one of the reasons we have him here, but he’s also a competitive guy. He comes to play, not only in the games, but he holds the guys at a high level at practice.
“He’s definitely a guy who’s cut from the old-school cloth that you saw back when I played. You need that balance in your lineup and that’s something that Dean brings for us.”
Arsene played 13 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10, but is probably best known for leading the Hershey Bears to a pair of Calder Cup championships and earning the nickname “Mayor of Chocolatetown”. Arsene captained the Bears to one of those AHL crowns (2005-06) and has also worn the ‘C’ for the Springfield Falcons, Peoria Rivermen and Portland Pirates.
The Abbotsford, B.C., native takes pride in being a leader and says there is no singular approach to leadership.
“I like to think it’s a little bit of a mix between leading by example on the ice and playing hard,” says Arsene, an alternate captain for the IceCaps. “That’s obviously what’s led to me to stay in the league as long as I have, going out there and putting it on the line every night. The little details of the game are important, like playing strong in my own zone and being hard to play against, being physical, blocking shots.
“You also have to pick and choose your spots in talking,” he continued. “With players and coaches, if you talk too much and scream and yell and rah-rah, guys tune you out. We have a group that’s a little quieter than teams I’ve had in the past so sometimes I have to step up a little bit more. Sometimes it’s a little thing like pulling a guy aside if he’s made a mistake, giving him some reassurance and confidence.
“It’s about reading people. Some guys can get down on themselves and you just try to pick them up with a little extra boost of confidence or keeping guys accountable in your own way. I think it’s a mix of being vocal and leading by example.”
One player who has followed Arsene’s example is IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray. Arsene served as captain of the Kootenay Ice when Jaffray broke in with the Western Hockey League club.
“In Kootenay, he was one of those older guys I looked up to when I was younger, when I was learning how to be a proper captain,” says Jaffray. “He’s a great addition to our team. You can never have too many leaders on one team. With guys like Garth Murray and Brett Festerling leaving this year, he was a great addition in the off-season for us.
“He’s definitely a vocal guy in the room and on the ice, which is the way I am. It’s great to have another guy that likes to have the dressing room the exact same way as you do.”
The life of a pro hockey player in the AHL can be a grind and trying to keep young players motivated chasing the dream of reaching the NHL. Arsene’s days of big-league hockey are likely over, but he finds other ways to stay focused while playing his high-energy style.
“I’m very realistic, knowing my age and everything,” says Arsene of returning to the NHL. “I think if I ever got a chance, I could still contribute and play up there, but there’s obviously a pecking order with prospects. I stay motivated trying to help these young guys get up there and experience [the NHL].
“We have a lot of talent on the back end and a lot of really good prospects for the Jets organization. So for me my motivation comes from trying to stay in the game for as long as I can. I’m going to do that by winning at the American Hockey League level and helping develop these prospects for NHL organizations.”
Although Arsene is one of the IceCaps’ elder statesmen, he says being around younger teammates keeps him feeling young and enthusiastic.
“You hear time and again from guys who have retired that say the thing they miss the most is the dressing room and the boys and being around them. I can see that. I can understand that,” says Arsene.
“I’m trying to have as much fun as I can, and hanging out with 20-year-olds keeps you young as well. It’s a lot of fun. I love it. And I wouldn’t change it for anything.”