Dean Arsene is hoping to take one of hockey’s quintessential roles, that of the stay-at-home defenceman, to a new, more literal level this season.
The term has always fit the 33-year-old like a well-worn hockey glove – he’s carved out an admirable pro career by doing the dirty work in the defensive zone, sacrificing personal glory for the good of the team.
But after plying his trade in nine different cities in the ECHL, AHL and NHL over the past 12 years, the Abbotsford Minor Hockey product’s main priority heading into free agency this past summer was simply to play in his hometown.
“I’m kind of getting toward the end of my career, and my agent and I just decided to focus on playing here,” Arsene said Friday, following the Abbotsford Heat’s first official training camp practice. “This is really the only place I wanted to play.”
Arsene’s road to Heat camp wasn’t necessarily straightforward, despite the fact that he’s quietly built a resumé as one of the more decorated AHLers of the past decade. He won Calder Cups in 2006 and 2009 with the Hershey Bears, and has served as captain for four franchises: Hershey, the Springfield Falcons, the Peoria Rivermen and the Portland Pirates.
Arsene spent the 2012-13 season with the St. John’s IceCaps, and at the conclusion of the campaign, he approached Heat head coach Troy Ward about the possibility of a homecoming.
“He said, ‘Hey, my wife and kids live here, and I’d really like to play in Abby,'” Ward recounted.
But with the NHL parent Calgary Flames in rebuilding mode and making plans to assimilate a bumper crop of rookie pros at the AHL level, Arsene had to wait to see if there would be a fit for him in Abbotsford.
He waited, in fact, until Wednesday – just two days before the Heat training camp opened – when he got a call from Craig Conroy, the Flames’ special assistant to the GM, offering a pro tryout contract.
“This isn’t a business where we just reward hometown people . . . that’s not the way the world works in professional hockey,” Ward noted. “But because of Dean’s past, his character, his leadership . . . he just represents everything you’d want.
“He’s a guy who wants to live and breathe the colours and represent the city, and that’s a win-win. We’ll see what happens with the whole thing, but right now, he’s getting an opportunity, and I’m happy for him.”
It’s not hard to see that the Heat could use someone of Arsene’s ilk. Steve Begin, a 35-year-old centre who has 524 NHL games under his belt, was signed late last month to provide some veteran seasoning on an otherwise youthful roster, but he was injured during Flames training camp and Ward doesn’t know when he’ll be available.
Regardless of Begin’s status, Arsene knows the Heat have a need for solid, exemplary veterans. His game, by his own description, “isn’t fancy by any stretch of the imagination” – he’s never mustered more than three goals in a season at the AHL level, but he’s eclipsed the 100-penalty-minute plateau six times.
“With the young crew here, I’m just trying to bring a veteran presence and help teach the young guys,” said Arsene, who suited up for 13 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10.
“I keep it simple, play hard, try to do the little things right, and lead by example. I’m trying to do that from Day 1 and turn the tryout into a contract.
“Ever since the team came into Abbotsford, I always wanted to play here . . . it would be a dream.”
• Ward had no additional information on Begin’s status.
“If I don’t see the whites of his eyes, I don’t (worry about injury details),” he said. “We expect him to be here if he’s healthy, I just don’t know when he’ll be healthy.”
• Heat training camp resumes on Saturday with a 10 a.m. practice at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, and is open to the public. The team plays its lone exhibition game Sunday, when the Utica Comets – the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate – come to town for a 7 p.m. tilt.
HEAT TRAINING CAMP ROSTER