This article was originally published in the Dec. 9, 2017, edition of the Sun.
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Ashton Rome came to the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks in 2006 as a 20-year-old farm boy from Manitoba. It was his first time living on his own, at a time in which he remembers having no real-life responsibilities.
Everything was an adjustment. In the tiny town of Nesbitt, Manitoba, it took a 25-minute drive to get anywhere, but Rome also knew it would be only a 25-minute drive. In Massachusetts, there are a lot more attractions within a short commute — but a 15-minute drive can quickly turn into an hour when traffic is against you.
“I’d never really lived on my own,” Rome said. “I went from small cities in Canada to a pretty big city in the U.S. That’s a pretty big change for a kid who grew up on the farm. It ended up working out nicely. I enjoyed living in a city and enjoyed living in the U.S. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Rome lived with Sharks teammate Riley Armstrong, whose girlfriend brought a friend over to the apartment one day. That friend was Methuen native Mackenzie Morin.
A decade later, Rome is back playing in Worcester — now as a captain of the Railers, the first-year ECHL team in town. Rome, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound right wing, has been married to Mackenzie for seven years. They’re expecting their third child later this month.
Needless to say, Rome isn’t quite the carefree 20-year-old he was when he first arrived in Central Massachusetts. “With all the responsibilities, it puts everything into perspective and makes you focus a little more,” he said.
A fourth-round pick (No. 108 overall) of the Boston Bruins in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and Round 5 selection (143rd overall) of the San Jose Sharks two years later, Rome left the Sharks in 2008 and bounced around several AHL and ECHL teams. In 2012, he signed up to play in Germany’s professional league, and played for three teams there over five seasons. He returned stateside midway through last year and finished out the season in New Hampshire with the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs.
Railers General Manager and Coach Jamie Russell scouted the right-hand-shooting Rome in Manchester and identified the veteran forward as a potential leader for the young Worcester team.
“We talked a little bit about where he was in his career and what he was going for,” Russell said. “In the offseason, we talked several times. He’s got a ton of experience. Two kids, third on the way — he’s at a very different stage in his career than a lot of the guys. His experience and leadership, he’s a guy that shows up every day. He’s not a real ‘rah-rah’ type of captain, but he’s got a great work ethic.”
The 31-year-old Rome was named the Railers’ inaugural captain before the season. It’s a position that fits him and the team; most of the Railers are young players in their early 20s who are just a year or two removed from juniors or college hockey, and Rome wants to become a coach after he retires.
“It was something that I wanted to come in and be a leader and be one of the oldest guys by far,” Rome said. “I wasn’t looking to be a captain, but I knew as an older guy, I’d be looked upon to be a leader, and everyone would look to my work ethic. Twelve years a pro, I know that’s my role.
“I said to [Russell], ‘I’m not the guy to go out and scream and yell, and hoot and holler and be a cheerleader.’ I don’t want to be a leader in that way,” he added. “You don’t need a cheerleader on the team. You want someone who will try and lead and do things the right way. There are things that I’m thinking about [for post-retirement] — I’d like to stay in hockey. I could see myself in coaching.”
Rome has played for 12 teams as a professional, and said the best coaches are the ones who care about the futures of the players. That’s what he wants to be.
“I just want to be a coach who focuses on developing players and helping people to move up,” he said. “I think that everyone’s goal is to move to the highest level, and I think anyone who isn’t trying to help people move up is doing a disservice. So I just want to be able to teach players and help them progress.”
Rome’s playing career is hardly over, however.
Through the team’s first 19 games (8-8-2-1, 6th-place North), Rome was tied for the team lead with six goals; he scored nine goals in 19 playoff games last season for Manchester, heating up after denting the net only three times during the regular season. Russell uses Rome for many big faceoffs. The Railers surely would not be as competitive as they have been in this inaugural season if not for their captain.
Rome left the Sharks in 2008 and continued a professional career odyssey that took him through Phoenix, Arizona; Toronto; Boise, Idaho; Hershey, Pennsylvania; Portland, Maine; Greenville, South Carolina; three cities in Germany; and finally, Manchester. He said Worcester has changed a lot since he last played here: There are more restaurants and more young people.
Rome has changed a lot, too, in the last 10 years, and the opportunity to bring his career full-circle with a return to Central Mass. was an offer he couldn’t turn down.
“It was the first place I played pro hockey — it feels like home, you know?” Rome said of Worcester. “It really made the decision easy for me.”
Dan Cagen can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.