It came, as nicknames on hockey clubs often do, from a teammate. From a teammate with ant vs rubber-tree plant stubbornness.
“It was Jamie Rivers,” answered St. John’s IceCaps defenceman Dean Arsene, when asked how he came to be known as ‘The Mayor of Chocolatetown’ during his half-decade as a member of the Hershey Bears.
“He came to us during the lockout year. The last lockout year … that’s how old I am,” tossed in Arsene with a laugh.
“He started calling me ‘The Mayor.’ He wouldn’t call me anything else. Not Deano or Ars. Even when we talking one-on-one, or when he was doing an interview and happened to refer to me, or when he was talking to fans, he always called me ‘The Mayor.’”
That went on for three weeks, until it started to stick.
“And I became ‘The Mayor.’ Someone would see you and go ‘Hey, it’s ‘The Mayor.’”
Rivers hadn’t just hauled the moniker out of a hat. It also stuck because it fit. Arsene, who saw action in 267 games for Hershey between 2003 and 2009 — helping the team to Calder Cups titles in 2006 and his final season — was one of the most popular players on the Bears and was well-known for his community work in area schools and hospitals.
When he left Hershey as a free agent to sign with the Edmonton Oilers, there were a lot of upset fans. It was a tough departure for Arsene, too. He liked playing in and for Hershey and could have easily stayed with the Bears on an AHL deal, but the Oilers had come with something the Washington Capitals, Hershey’s parent team, weren’t prepare to offer — a contract with an NHL component.
Arsene would make his NHL debut with the Oilers in 2009-10, appearing in 13 games for Edmonton. Since then, he has been with the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen and Portland Pirates — as team captain in both cases — before joining the IceCaps this off-season.
Since leaving Hershey, the 32-year-old British Columbia native has played against the Bears team five times, including Tuesday night’s contest at Mile One.
He has twice been in Hershey as a member of the opposition, once with the Pirates last season and last month with the IceCaps in a 2-1 St. John’s win.
“Going there last year with Portland was the first time back and I got a nice response … the crowd received me well I guess is how you could put it,” he said.
“The coaching staff put me in the starting lineup and it was the same this year. Keith (McCambridge) and them got me in there, too. So that was nice.
“It’s a thing where I don’t want to screw up playing in front of all the people who saw you in all those games when you were there. You don’t want them thinking, ‘I’m sure glad we don’t have him anymore.’
“It’s different, because it’s a case of where you like them a lot, but you really want to stick it to them, too. You want to beat them. Last year with Portland, we went in there and they beat us 7-1. I was so embarrassed, I just put my head down and walked straight to the bus.
“So when we went in there and got a win (earlier this season), it felt good.”
But Arsene says he doesn’t see the Bears team that played the IceCaps Tuesday, and will face them in a rematch tonight, any different than any other club showing up at Mile One.
“I don’t treat them any differently than any other team,” he said of the Bears, whose 2012-13 lineup contains only a few players — Boyd Kane, Patrick McNeill and Braden Holtby — who were teammates during his Hershey playing days.
“And Holtby had just come in as a junior at the end of my last year there. When you get old enough in this business, you know at least one or two guys on every team. With Hershey this year, it’s no different.”
“Because there is a familiar logo on (the opposition jersey) doesn’t make it any different to be honest with you.”
But Hershey itself, he admits, is something different.
“Hershey’s a good place to play hockey, one of the top places in the league, with a great building and great crowd and for the most part, they usually have a pretty good team. It’s always a unique experience going to Hershey, especially having spent so much time there. It kind of has a special place in my heart,” said the one-time ‘Mayor of Chocolatetown,’ who, along with his wife, visited his former “constituency” this past off-season.
And then there is also the memory of the smell of the town dubbed “The Sweetest Place on Earth.”
Aromas from the factory that produce Hershey chocolate and confections waft daily through the community of 13,000. For those of you who grew up in towns with pulp mills or fish plants, take away the odors you might remember and replace them with those scents that come when cocoa and sugar are blended.
“I love it because I’m a chocoholic,” said Arsene. “There’s nothing better to drive down the street with the windows rolled down and get that smell of chocolate.”