Defying the Odds

Tuesday, 10.11.2009 / 3:11 PM / Features
By Derek Jory

Rome has made it to the NHL's summit, but playing alongside his brothers still means the most

It never dawned on Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome that the odds of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning were better than playing in the NHL.

Rome, an off-season pick up by Vancouver, wasn’t concerned about making it to the big show as a kid, he was just trying to keep pace with older brothers who had a step on him at the rink.

The third of four boys, Rome grew up in Nesbitt, Manitoba, a community so small it isn’t even worthy of a label on Google maps. He got his start in hockey like every other kid from the prairies, the 26-year-old played because “there’s not much else to do in Manitoba in the winter.” It was either play hockey, ice fish or build snowmen – the choice was clear.

“My dad took a liking to the game and even though he never played, he got my brothers started in hockey. It just trickled down to all of us and once we started, we just never quit. We each fell in love with it.”

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Rome harvested that love and cultivated it into an undying passion for hockey; he lived and breathed the game as he worked his way up through the ranks from the SMHL to the WHL to the AHL to the NHL.

The unique thing about Rome’s story is that as he played his way from frigid rinks in the middle of who-knows-where Manitoba to the most elite league in the world, he was never alone.

Just as Aaron ran with his NHL dream, so too did brothers Ryan (30), Reagan (28) and Ashton (24), the latter being the only forward of the group. It’s one thing to have family support away from the game, it’s another to have it on the ice.

“I actually got a chance to play junior with Ashton in Moose Jaw for three months, so that was pretty cool, and we lived together too,” said Aaron.

“I played with Reagan on two different occasions, we played together in Saskatoon in junior for two weeks and we actually played together, we were defensive partners, and then I played pro with him in Cincinnati, he got called up for a weekend when he was playing in Reading and we played two games together as D partners again so that was pretty cool.

“Ryan is the only one I’ve never had a chance to play on a team with.”

Of the four Rome brothers, Aaron and Ashton were drafted by NHL clubs, Aaron to the Los Angeles Kings 104th overall in 2002, Ashton to the San Jose Sharks 143rd overall in 2006, although all four made it to at least the minor pro level. The fact that their hometown boasts a population of fewer than 30 people makes that an incredible feat.

While Aaron credits his brothers with helping him become the versatile defenceman that has slotted into Vancouver’s line-up for 10 games already this season (some as forward), it was his parents Dennis and Karen that made his NHL dream a reality.

“As I’m sure every guy at this level would say, my parents played a huge role in my brothers and I having a go at hockey. They gave up a lot of their social life, a lot of time and a lot of money, a lot of mileage on the cars too, just to give us an opportunity to play hockey and not just in the winter, but in the summer as well.

“We went and played in Brandon because the hockey was better and our parents made a huge sacrifice there. Some of the hockey was even better outside so we moved to Souris and played for some really good teams there and really developed so my parents made some big sacrifices by moving. They spent a lot of time and a lot of money over the years.”

Ryan no longer plays minor pro hockey, while Reagan continues to duke it out bouncing from league to league. Last season he was with the Lausitzer Foxes, before that he split time between the AHL and ECHL, same as Ashton, who is currently playing for the Idaho Steelheads in the ECHL.

Aaron is the only Rome with NHL experience to his name and he’s made the most of it having already on a Stanley Cup - kind of. Rome was recalled by the Anaheim Ducks for their Cup run in 2006 and although he didn’t suit up during the Stanley Cup final, he did appear in one playoff game which was enough for the team to bestow him with a championship ring and let him spend a day with the Cup.

Rome didn’t strike it rich playing the lottery and he’s never been zapped by lightning, instead he not only defied the odds of making the NHL, but he made it to the league's highest summit.

Still, Rome's best hockey memories are the good old days of playing alongside his brothers.

“We played a lot of road hockey games at home and it was always Ryan and Ashton, the oldest and the youngest together, against me and Reagan, the two middle boys. We thought that was fair but I’m pretty sure we won the majority of the games.”