St. John’s IceCaps general manager and avid salmon angler Craig Heisinger dipped his line in the summertime free agent hockey pool and landed a few catches, and his big prize just might turn out to be a no-nonsense, gritty, veteran defenceman.
Brian Sutherby is the NHL veteran, Mark Dekanich the erstwhile AHL all-star goaltender and Derek Whitmore the sniper, but it’s Dean Arsene who quietly may be the most important acquisition of the off-season.
The 32-year-old Arsene, entering his 12th professional season, won’t be quarterbacking any IceCaps’ power plays this winter. Don’t look for his name to be showing up a lot on any scoresheets.
Rather, if it’s veteran leadership you’re looking for, a dependable shut-down rearguard who likes to play it tough and drop the gloves every now and then, Arsene’s your man.
“My skill set isn’t scoring goals,” smiled the product of Abbotsford, B.C. “It’s more about blocking shots and playing mean, physical hockey. The kind of player other players don’t want to play against.
“The biggest compliment for a player like me is when you play with guys the following year, and they say they hated playing against me, well, that’s a feather in my cap.”
Arsene has played 513 career AHL games. Impressive, but it’s not the thing that stands out in his curriculum vitae. No, it’s the fact he’s won two Calder Cup American Hockey League championships with the Hershey Bears, captaining the club to the 2005-06 title and wearing the ‘A’ when Hershey won it all in 2008-09.
He’s been with three different teams the past three years — Springfield Falcons, Peoria Rivermen and Portland Pirates last season — captaining each club.
That in itself says it all. The guy’s a leader.
“Sometimes it’s old age,” he smiled, when asked the definition of a captain. “You need discipline and a solid work ethic every game and every practice because all eyes are on you in the dressing room.
“If you’re not putting it out there every day, guys start to notice and question it.
“You have to be able to relate to the younger guys and the older guys … get the whole group together as one and not let them separate into cliques.
“If that happens, you’re asking for trouble. If you can get the whole team together, work hard together and win together, there’s nothing better.”
Arsene signed a one-year contract with the IceCaps, thanks in part to his old junior teammate, St. John’s captain Jason Jaffray.
Arsene owns and operates his own five-acre blackberry farm in Abbotsford with his wife during the off-season, so a job with the AHL’s Heat would be been the perfect fit.
But that didn’t work out, and instead, Arsene set his sights on the other coast where Heisinger was making inquiries.
“Winnipeg was interested, and I was certainly interested,” he said. “I think you can already classify St. John’s as an elite team in the American Hockey League in terms of organizations. You can put them in the same group with Hershey and Chicago and those top organizations that want to win.
“When they phoned, I was really interested and after talking with Jason, he had great things to say about the organization and the city and the people involved with the team. It was a pretty easy decision.”
Arsene made a couple of trips to St. John’s last season with the Pirates, and was both surprised and impressed with the atmosphere within Mile One Centre on game night, even for a mid-week game.
“The atmosphere was electric, and I’m really looking forward to playing 40 games here.”
The IceCaps will be Arsene’s seventh minor pro team since turning pro after five seasons in the Western Hockey League.
The AHL’s answer to Crash Davis got his crack at the big leagues three years ago when he made 13 starts for the Edmonton Oilers.
Arsene didn’t register a point, but he did manage to get his name in the books, picking up 41 minutes in penalties.
“Playing the game of hockey for a job, boy, you can’t beat it, to be quite honest,” he replied when queried what keeps him coming back.
“You grow up as a little kid wanting to be a hockey player and I’ve been fortunate to do it 12 years now,” he said. “So as long as people want to keep signing me to contracts, I’ll keep playing.
“I love the game and I love being around the locker room. It’s the whole atmosphere. Everything about it is intoxicating. It’s hard to pull yourself away.”