The Return of Rome: 11 years later, Rome comes home

By Tom Matthews

Worcester Railers captain Ashton Rome arrived in Worcester at the age of 20, a long way from the farm he called home in Nesbitt, Manitoba, it was here he started his professional career, and after a long 11-year voyage throughout the United States and Europe, it is here he returns for his 12th professional season.

Ashton Rome’s earliest memory of hockey is driving to the rink with his grandfather who had stopped at the hardware store to get him a stick. He came out and handed Ashton the stick, and he replied, “Grandpa, that’s not the right hand. I’m right-handed, not left.”

An easy mistake to make, Ashton being the only right-handed next to his three brothers, who were all left-handed.

Ashton grew up playing hockey with his three older brothers Ryan, Reagan, and Aaron. He played up one year on Aaron’s team and recalls not scoring a goal all year until the Mother-Son game when he finally scored a goal.

Ashton credits his brother Ryan, the eldest, for getting his brothers and him into hockey.

“We kind of all just followed what he did,” said Rome.

The four of them grew up on a farm in Nesbitt, Manitoba, a community located in the Rural Municipality of Oakland, Manitoba, Canada.

Nesbitt is home to about 40 people, but that’s being generous, said Rome.

“There might be 10, 15 houses max in Nesbitt,” he said.

When asked about what it was like to grow up on a farm in an area of such small population, Rome replied, “It was fun. We had free reign to do what we wanted. The summers were fun because we were outside. We never spent any time in the house. We were out on the quads or playing baseball in the yard, football—and I had three older brothers so we always played two on two and just beat up on each other…we weren’t restricted to worrying about traffic in the city.”

Their father, Dennis, brought home a piece of glass from the rink that the boys placed on the ground, and the four would shoot pucks off it for hours on end.

“There’s countless holes in many building because we used them as backstops, and when you missed the net, the puck would usually end up going through it.”

Ashton and his brothers went to school in a town called Souris, which had a population of about 1,500 at the time.

He tried out for the high school hockey team his freshman year, played in three games, led the team in scoring, and was cut.

“Coach called me in his office and said, ‘You’re not going to play for us this year, we usually don’t take freshman.’ So, he cut me even though I was leading the team in scoring, and I went back and played minor hockey, bantam. I finished with my minor hockey team in Souris and the next year moved on and played midget triple a where all my brothers played before me. I played a year there and led that team in scoring.”

From there, Rome would move onto play in the Western Hockey League (WHL), a major junior ice hockey league based in Canada and the Northwestern United States.

At just 17 years old, Rome moved to Moosejaw, Saskatchewan to play with the Moosejaw Warriors of the WHL. He left his family, the farm, and his town of 40 people behind to live in a city of over 33,000 people.

Some 17-year-old kids can’t work up the nerve to go for their driving test, but at that age, Rome found himself in a new city, new family, and new school. All for hockey.

“It was pretty cool,” he said. “The nice thing about it was that I moved into the same host family as my older brother Reagan…I had met them before and it was probably one of the easiest transitions for me in my junior career…Going to a new school was completely different. The school I went to had 120 kids in the whole high school, and I went to this high school and there’s 1,000 kids, so I was completely overwhelmed. I’d go to lunch and be like, ‘Where do I sit?’”

Rome would go on to play in the WHL until he was 20 years old.

After the WHL, he was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2004, and later by the San Jose Sharks in 2006.

He signed with San Jose and was assigned to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Worcester Sharks.

And, Worcester, for Rome, was a bit of a shock.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I was scared. I was in a rough part of Worcester when I first came in, and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. Maybe I should find my way out of here, but at the same time it was cool because it was something I had never seen before.

“It was eye-opening. I was twenty years old and I thought I was grown up, but I had been living with a family that pretty much took care of me and did my laundry and cooked my meals and then I was twenty, turning twenty-one and I show up in the U.S. and I have to do everything for myself. I had to cook, I had to clean, find an apartment, get my own bank account. I didn’t have my parents helping out, and it’s kind of a shell-shock.”

Unlike the ECHL, players in the AHL must find their own housing, and at twenty Rome had no idea of how to go about getting an apartment, and did the only thing he could think of: got in his truck and drove around looking.

“I was winging it,” he said.

He wasn’t completely on his own, however, as his older brother Aaron was just a few hours away in Portland playing for the Portland Pirates at the time.

“It was nice that I had my brother so close in Portland,” he said. “Because if I needed something I could call him and if I felt homesick I’d drive up and we’d hangout or he’d come or we’d meet in Boston…my other brother was playing in Pennsylvania and at Christmas time we all flew down there and had Christmas together. It was nice that we were all kind of on the same side of the country.”

And while the move to Worcester was a big adjustment for Rome, so was the transition to playing in the AHL.

“It was a big step,” he said. “When I was twenty I was one of the oldest guys in the league, and then I come into the AHL, and I hadn’t turned 21 yet and I was one of the youngest guys and it was different. You’re playing against fully grown men. It was quite a difference from playing against a handful of twenty-year-olds.”

Rome would spend three years in Worcester from 06-09, leaving in ’09 to join the now defunct Phoenix Roadrunners of the ECHL. He put up 15 goals, 11 assists and 112 penalty minutes in those three years.

He has made plenty of other AHL stops as well including Toronto, Hersey, and Portland. In total, Rome has played in 294 AHL games amassing 40 goals, 38 assists, and 245 penalty minutes.

He was a member of the 2010 Hershey Bears Calder Cup championship team, where he recorded five points in 10 playoff games.

He has also suited up in 132 ECHL games for Phoenix, Idaho, Greenville, and Manchester scoring 54 goals, 44 assists, and 288 penalty minutes.

Now entering his 12th professional season, Rome has returned home to his roots in Worcester, where he will champion the captain’s “C” on his jersey as he plays the role of a veteran on a team making their debut.

At 31-years-old, Rome is married with two kids, with a third child on its way. The move to Worcester just seemed to make sense, it is, after all, the city where he met his wife Mackenzie.

The same year Ashton met Mackenzie, his brother Aaron was playing in Anaheim and needed Ashton to drive his car back home to Canada. Ashton had met Mackzenzie about a month prior and the two had been dating since, and not having anyone else to ask, he asked her if she would drive his car to Canada while he drove his brother’s car. Sure enough, she said yes.

A 28-hour drive later, and things were solidified between the two.

They now have two kids, a boy, Julian who is five, and a girl Calliope who is two in February, with another boy on the way, due in December.

And like most things in life, timing is everything.

“I spent four and a half years in Germany and Mackenzie and I would always talk about me coming back and playing in the U.S…I said, ‘I’d like to be around home, I’m sick of moving all over the place, Julian started kindergarten, and we wanted to be in one place, we wanted him to be around family, and not be moving around every year and having a different team every year…we came home and I just called Manchester and said, ‘Do you have room for me?’ and it worked out well…and then when I heard Worcester was having a team I said to Myzie, ‘It would  be nice to come back and play in Worcester because it’s where I started and it kind of just grew from there.”

He signed an ECHL contract with the Worcester Railers HC in August, and returning to Worcester 11 years later, Rome is shocked again. But this time for another reason. 

“It’s crazy how much better the city, and everything’s gotten since I’ve been here,” he said. “They’ve really put a lot of work into downtown Worcester and improving the appearance of the city overall…I didn’t even know, until this year, that Worcester is the second largest city in New England, I would have never guessed. And I think Worcester’s taken a lot pride in being a big city in New England and really trying to develop and turn it into a spot where young people want to move.”

A lot has changed since Rome first arrived in Worcester in 2006—the infrastructure, transportation, the teams—one thing that hasn’t changed is Rome’s desire to compete.

“I’m not ready to be done playing hockey. I still have so much fun playing…I’m still able to play, and play at this level…and I wanted to be somewhere where I’m familiar, and my wife Mackenzie thought it was a great idea and she seems to have a pretty good eye for things.”

And now back in Worcester, 11 years later, with a new team in a new league, let’s hope Mackenzie was right.