For 13 hours, Dean Arsene sat in Buffalo’s Marine Midland Arena in June of 1998 and waited for his name to be called at the NHL Entry Draft.
Rated 104th heading into the draft, the Abbotsford defenceman saw 258 other players make their NHL dreams come true.
Arsene was never selected that day, a moment that still stings to this day.
“I sat there with my agent, my dad and his friend and it was quite disappointing,” he said. “That was probably the low point for me.”
But he didn’t let that stop him. He finished his junior hockey career with the Kootenay Ice, winning the Western HockeyLeague championship in the year 2000, and began carving a career in the pro ranks.
Arsene earned two Calder Cups and suited up for over 600 games in the American Hockey League, and also played 13 games with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
The long and winding journey for Arsene in the world of hockey ended in 2014, but his legacy will now live on in the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame.
Arsene is one of two inductees in this year’s class, an honour he said he cherishes.
“I wasn’t expecting it, to be quite honest,” he said. “It’s pretty cool; it’s your hometown so to be recognized like that is really special. Having my family there as well should make it a great event.”
Being enshrined in the ASHOF is a far cry from his early days learning the game in Aldergrove. Arsene spent the majority of his minor hockey career in Aldergrove, before joining the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association for his final Bantam year. He said he still has a strong bond with teammates from that time.
“Some of my best friends to this day were a part of that team,” he said.
That was also the same year that his teammate Dallas Saunders died after blocking a shot during a game. He said Saunders’ death brought the team together.
“To go through that as a 15-year-old kid was difficult on all of us,” he said. “It was the lowest of lows when Dallas passed away. I’ll never forget that year.”
Draft disappointment also occurred for Arsene as a 16-year-old, as he was not selected in the Western Hockey League’s Bantam draft. He was listed by the Regina Pats, and made the team after impressing team officials during training camp.
Arsene said the move from B.C. to Saskatchewan was a bit of an adjustment, but it was made easier by a great billet family.He spent two years in Regina before being dealt to the Edmonton Ice during the 1997-98 season.
The Edmonton Ice moved to Cranbrook for the 1998-99 season, and the following year was the Ice’s run to the MemorialCup. The Ice finished second in their division, but took out their arch-rival Calgary Hitmen en route to winning the WHL championship.
“Cranbrook, being a small community, we were kind of the small-town blue-collar team,” he said. “Calgary was the big city and had a lot of flashy and skilled players. We battled with them all season long that year and were able to take them out,which felt great.”
After his junior career was done, Arsene signed with the Charlotte Checkers, an affiliate of the New York Rangers in the EastCoast Hockey League. He worked his way up to the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford the next year and began a strong career in the AHL.
He eventually spent six seasons with the Hershey Bears, winning the Calder Cup with the club in 2006 and 2009. He was also named captain of the club, and earned the nickname “The Mayor.” He became a fan favourite in Hershey for his community involvement and work ethic on the ice.
“By no means was I a skilled player but I think they appreciated the blue-collar way I played,” he said. “They treated me really well there.”
Arsene then got the call to the NHL in the 2009-10 season, playing 13 games for the Oilers.
“It’s a another level,” he said, of his time in the NHL. “As a kid, it’s your dream to be called up and play in the NHL. It was a cool experience. It’s first-class in the NHL.”
He returned to the AHL for stints in Springfield, Peoria, Portland and St. John’s , being named a captain for three of those four stops. He wrapped up his pro career in 2013-14 with the Abbotsford Heat, also wearing the “C.”
“It was a dream to be able to play in your hometown, sleep in your own bed and be around family and friends,” he said. “I was fortunate to have them sign me and have me finish my career here. If the team would have stayed, I might have wanted to stick around for a few more years.”
Arsene has made the transition from the sports world into “civilian” life, and now works for Leavitt Cranes as the sales rep for B.C.
“I love it,” he said, of his new job. “It’s been a great transition, and all my co-workers have been really supportive.”
He added that he never could have made it in professional hockey without the support of his family, especially his wife.
Arsene officially enters the ASHOF on April 30 during a banquet at the Legacy Sports Centre.
-By Ben Lypka, Black Press