Career minor-leaguer gets his shot

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

ATLANTA -- Dean Arsene waited his whole career for the call.

For nine seasons, the defenceman has slugged it out in the minors chasing his NHL dream. Yet he'd been passed over more often than roast beef by a vegan.

That was until yesterday when Arsene was called up by the Edmonton Oilers to possibly take Denis Grebeshkov's spot in the lineup this afternoon against the Atlanta Thrashers.

'CRUEL JOKE'

"I didn't believe it when the coach (in Springfield) told me at the beginning, I thought it was a cruel joke," Arsene said. "But then when they handed me the (travel) papers I was pretty happy.

"I have never been called up before. This is kind of new I didn't know what to do, what to pack. I was completely lost, I felt like I was a rookie in junior again."

A former member of the Edmonton Ice junior team that has since moved to Kootenay, Arsene, 29, was signed to a minor-league contract by the Oilers this summer to provide leadership and experience to their AHL affiliate.

Prior to being captain of the Falcons, the six-foot-two, 200-pound native of Murrayville, B.C., spent six years with the Hershey Bears never once getting called up to the NHL.

"This is my ninth year pro, it's crazy," Arsene said.

"Nine years is a long time. This is pretty surreal. Funny enough, it was my dad's birthday yesterday and it was a pretty good birthday present to be able to call him and tell him that."

Arsene flew into Atlanta in time for practice yesterday. His spot in the lineup is not guaranteed pending on Sheldon Souray's availability.

Souray has been out with concussion issues since the third game of the season and might be ready to return. Denying Arsene his NHL debut, however, would just seem cruel.

"I think if we get approval on Sheldon, then he (Arsene) might be out of luck," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. "But we don't know that yet.

"I can appreciate where he is right now. He's paid his dues and it would be nice if he had a chance."

Quinn can relate. As a player he spent his share of time in the minors and at one time actually gave the game up.

"There were only six teams when I started out," said Quinn. "And I actually went to Tulsa to go to school and work for a trucking company, when the league expanded, so I actually retired at 24. Yeah, so it took some time for me."

Arsene never contemplated quitting, but knew he was not going to get a chance to play in the NHL if he stayed with the Bears, the Washington Capitals' farm team.

"I don't know if was ever that drastic (thinking of quitting), but you really start to have your doubts with every birthday that comes around and every year you get send down after training camp, you start wondering if you're ever going to get that chance," he said. "You kind of had that sense that it was never going to happen, because they (Capitals) were very deep on defence. It was one of those things where you saw the writing on the wall."

GET A CHANCE

One of the reasons Arsene signed with Edmonton was for the opportunity. He would have to go make an impression with a new organization.

"My mindset coming into training camp was that it was a new organization and I wanted to impress," he said. "I had a fairly decent camp and in my exit meeting they just told me to go down and play as hard as I can and if I'm playing well and they need me, then they'll call me up. That was the case. Now I'm up here and loving every minute of it.

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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