PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Mark Arcobello is here this weekend as an AHL All-Star, a standout for the Oklahoma City Barons with an Edmonton Oilers contract. But earlier this week, Matt Sather stood in Bridgeport and thought back to one of the reasons Arcobello is here.
A decade ago, the Fairfield Prep Jesuits were working on the power play. Arcobello, an unusual freshman working on that unit, took a hit.
"He finished practice like nothing happened," said Sather, coach then as now. But later Arcobello stepped out of the dressing room and said his stomach hurt. Sather told his father to take him to the hospital.
He had a lacerated spleen. It ended his season.
The next year Arcobello took four stitches in the first period of the state championship game and returned to score three points. He was a target on the ice throughout his junior year.
"He was obviously spectacular as a high school player and a college player, but he's tough," Sather said.
At 5-foot-9 and 165, Arcobello is the smallest player in this event. At the other extreme, Western Conference teammate Jamie Oleksiak lists at 6-7, 254 pounds.
But Arcobello's toughness has taken him from Milford to Fairfield Prep to Yale and to an NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
"I try to play a little bit physical as much as I can," Arcobello, 24, said at Dunkin' Donuts Center before Sunday's All-Star Skills Competition. "It gets me in the game, gets me going.
"It depends how you look at it. I'm obviously not looking to do anything really crazy physically, but I'll keep playing my game."
That has worked just fine.
Arcobello has 12 goals and 23 assists for the Barons in 41 games. That's only eight points shy of the 43 he posted last year in 73 games, his first full AHL season.
Those numbers earned him a berth on the AHL's Western Conference all-star team. Fan voting made him a starter for the game tonight at 7 (MSG, NESN Plus).
"He makes better plays than a lot of people can. Now you see he's got the ability to finish as well. He's an offensive threat every time he's out on the ice."
Teammate Yann Danis, the former Sound Tigers goalie, jokingly sent Arcobello a message on Twitter congratulating him on the all-star nod and suggesting he send Hall and Eberle a gift basket.
"We had a pretty good power play, as you probably could see," Arcobello said, and the Barons' man-advantage unit leads the rest of the league by two full percentage points. "Right now I'm just trying to keep that going. I've got a little more responsibility, and I'm trying to keep that going."
Arcobello shouldered a load for the Jesuits, centering the top line as a sophomore between two seniors, including his brother, Dave. They combined for all three goals in a 3-1 win in the state final against Notre Dame-West Haven.
Arcobello was held off the scoresheet the next year in the final, but his defensive work helped Fairfield Prep win another title.
"I always thought he was very mature, but also fun-loving," Sather said. "He was one of the guys. It's pretty easy, when you're that good that young, to sort of distance yourself. I've seen guys do it.
"I think the difference was his brother. He's a no-nonsense guy."
Arcobello played his senior year at Salisbury before going to Yale. While he was at college, Sather said, he came back to Wonderland several times on breaks to skate or work out with the team, and he always made himself available to the players.
"He didn't have to talk. He could do his work and go out," Sather said. "He loves to work. He loves to skate."
Said Backman: "He's got the ability to make a lot of people laugh. He's charismatic, a very likeable guy."
After their senior year at Yale -- Arcobello had a six-point game in the regional final, a 9-7 loss to Boston College -- Arcobello signed an AHL contract with the Barons, splitting 2010-11 between Oklahoma City and its Stockton (Calif.) affiliate in the ECHL. He was the MVP of the ECHL all-star game that year and earned his NHL entry-level contract at the end of that season.
What will it take to make the next step and join Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton?
"We'll see," Arcobello said. "Obviously my goal is to make the NHL. I'll keep doing what the coaches ask in order to get there."
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