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A Prince Edward Islander has worked his way into an important role with the Grand Falls Rapids.
Defenceman Zac Arsenault of Montague was recently named the Maritime Junior Hockey League (MHL) team’s rookie of the year.
“It was a huge honour to get that award,” said Arsenault. “I just tried to come to the rink, put the work in and try to get better every day.”
The son of Robert and Kim Arsenault, who turned 19 years old on Saturday, registered 17 points, including five goals, and 92 penalty minutes, in 51 regular-season games.
“He was a no-brainer for that award for our team,” said Rapids head coach Brad MacKenzie, who is from Charlottetown. “He stepped in and played well the first half and, especially, in the second half after we lost our captain Denis Toner.”
The veteran defenceman joined the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) after the Herd traded its three overage players.
Toner’s departure resulted in Arsenault being promoted to an assistant captain.
“That was a big step for a rookie,” said MacKenzie. “We felt he was ready to take on more of a leadership role, and he certainly did not look like a rookie for our team.
“Every day, he came to the rink, he worked, he led and he ended up being a top-four defenceman. He played all situations – power play, penalty kill – and was physical in his own zone.”
Along with growing as a hockey player, Arsenault feels he grew as a person during his first season in Grand Falls.
“Moving away from home and leaving the family is tough, but I had an amazing billet family (Colette and Pat Kavanaugh),” said Arsenault. “They are fantastic people and did everything they possibly could for us.
“They made everything really easy and made it like home.”
MacKenzie said the biggest adjustment Arsenault made with the Rapids is playing a more controlled game.
“Zac likes to be a physical player, and that’s why we like him, but at times early on he would sometimes go out of control to make the physical play and he sometimes got exposed a little bit defensively,” said MacKenzie.
“I found, as the season, progressed he picked his spots a lot better, he thought the game better, he played a lot more under control and played a simple game, which you need in junior hockey.”
MacKenzie added that, as Arsenault’s confidence grew, he was able to contribute more offensively.
“Whether that be on the power play, picking his spots jumping into the rush and creating plays in the offensive zone,” said MacKenzie. “to me, it was a gradual progression of understanding that things are higher at this level. You need to be under control and pick your spots.”
MacKenzie’s familiarity with Arsenault was a big factor in the Rapids acquiring his MHL rights from Miramichi on Sept. 5.
“Myself, being new to the league and looking at different players that might be available, I knew Zac and knew exactly what we were getting in him,” said MacKenzie. “No. 1, he’s a great kid and a great leader and that’s something I always look for in players.
“Then, No. 2, is his work ethic and compete in the game. I like his physical play and, for me, he is the type of defenceman you want on your team because he can play all situations.
“He can play well in his own zone, he’s good on the penalty kill and over time he’s going to be a really good power-play defenceman in this league.”
Arsenault noted some previous junior experience with the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders helped him transition to junior A. He played nine games as an affiliated player with the Islanders during the last three seasons.
“I knew what I was getting into,” said Arsenault, a 10th-round pick of the Islanders in 2017. “I felt I had a good solid first season.”
He credited an all-P.E.I. coaching staff of MacKenzie and assistants Nich Tremere of Borden-Carleton and former Summerside Western Capitals captain Morgan MacDonald of Little Pond with providing him the opportunity to succeed.
“I got a lot of opportunities, and Brad was great,” said Arsenault. “He pushed me and so did our defensive coach, Nich Tremere.
“I tried to put all the work in I could – on the ice, off the ice, after practice – to improve every aspect of my game.”
Did You Know?
- A quick look at Zac Arsenault:
- Zac Arsenault played three previous seasons with the Kensington Wild major midget program.
- He was named the New Brunswick/Prince Edward Island Major Midget Hockey League’s top defenceman and a first-team all-star for the 2018-19 season.
- In 88 regular-season games with the Wild, he registered 24 goals, 38 assists, 62 points and 225 penalty minutes.
- “Zac’s just a great guy and showed great commitment travelling from the Montague area up to Kensington for three years,” said Wild head coach Kyle Dunn. “It was great to have him for three years and watch him be part of the Charlottetown Islanders at their training camp and get called up a few times.
- “He’s found a great home in Grand Falls and it’s great to see.”
- Click here for story on the all-P.E.I. coaching staff returning to Grand Falls Rapids for 2020-21 season:
- Click here for story on Zac Arsenault understanding the importance of the 2018-19 season with the Kensington Wild:
- Click here for story on Zac Arsenault named the N.B./P.E.I. Major Midget Hockey League's top defenceman for 2018-19 season: