by Benjamin Bean || AHL On The Beat Archive
When the Peoria Rivermen broke camp in early October, a new head coach had a tough decision to make before his team took to the ice for its first game.
Although the weather was just starting to cool off, Jared Bednar had his eye on playing into the summer heat when he named Dean Arsene Peoria’s new captain.
“Arsene brings exceptional work ethic to practices and games,” said Bednar. “He approaches each day professionally, and we see him talking to the younger kids about what he sees with each rep in practice. He talks to everyone, holds the team to a high standard, takes control of situations and helps teach guys in any way.”
And the two Calder Cups on his résumé don’t hurt either.
Now with the Rivermen in the middle of one of the tightest playoff races in recent memory, the former Hershey Bear is trying to lead this team into the postseason for the third time in six AHL seasons.
“We have a standings board just inside the dressing room so everyday we walk in and see where we are at. It’s not a thing where you have to say anything to get the guys fired up,” said Arsene.
“Attention to detail is the biggest thing because hockey is a game with mistakes. We just try to correct them and not repeat them. We have to stay on the same page. We can’t get too high or too low. We have to stay on track.”
Leadership has come naturally to Arsene in his career because his work ethic is contagious.
“I try to lead by example,” Arsene said. “I work as hard as I can in practice and in games. If you yell at guys constantly they start tuning you out.”
Booming body checks and courageous shot blocks follow Arsene around the ice who grew up admiring former New Jersey Devils captain – and three-time Stanley Cup champion – Scott Stevens.
But unlike Stevens, who was the fifth overall pick by Washington in the 1982 NHL Draft, Arsene has had to battle his way up from a 21-year-old rookie with Charlotte in the ECHL. After a year in the AHL with Hartford the following year he was back in the ECHL with Reading – the team that gave him his first taste of Peoria.
“I played here against the Rivermen when they were part of the ECHL and I really liked it,” Arsene said. “Joe Pereira (former Rivermen defenseman and the best man at Arsene’s wedding) gave me some insiders. He said that it was a great hockey town and it has held true to form.”
Arsene made his debut with the Hershey Bears later that season and never looked back. Two seasons later he had his first Calder Cup and a new nickname: “The Mayor of Chocolatetown.”
“During the lockout season we had Jamie Rivers who started calling me Mayor because I did a lot of community work. The following year we traded for Colin Forbes who also started calling me Mayor. He wouldn’t call me anything else but Mayor to newspaper reporters, teammates, coaches and fans. When you do something for long enough it sticks, and this one stuck pretty well.”
He was bestowed with Hershey’s “C” for the first time by current Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau for the 2006-07 season. He appeared in 221 regular-season games for the Bears over his six seasons in Hershey but it’s the 49 games of playoff hockey experience that the Rivermen are leaning on this time of year.
“We won the Calder Cup my third year there (2006), the next year we made the finals again but unfortunately lost,” Arsene said. “Two years later we were fortunate enough to win it again. I had a lot of success there.”
Last season, the AHL journeyman finally got a shot in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. Staying true to form, Arsene took his gritty play with him to the next level, blocking shots and throwing hits. One of his hits got the attention of 6-foot-8-inch John Scott.
“That was not planned by any means,” Arsene explained. “I hit one of their guys and it just so happened that Scott was on the ice. I saw him, his chest at my eye level, and threw the hardest punch I could. It didn’t even phase him and I just tried my best to hold on.”
While Arsene may be leading the way he is leading a group of players who know what it takes to win. Graham Mink was Arsene’s teammate for his two Cups in Hershey. Nathan Oystrick was with the Chicago Wolves when they won it all in 2008. Brennan Evans won a Memorial Cup back in 2002 when he was with the Kootenay Ice (WHL). Derek Nesbitt was a Kelly Cup (ECHL) champion in 2007 as a member of the Idaho Steelheads. Rookie Mark Cundari is fresh off back-to-back Memorial Cup championships with the Windsor Spitfires.
And as for the coach, Bednar himself is just two seasons removed from coaching the South Carolina Stingrays to the Kelly Cup. He also won it twice as a player.
With the entire team on board, they have to like where they are headed with Arsene steering the ship.