Rome’s WHL career comes to an end

By Janine Pilkington

The Kamloops Blazers brought the 2005-06 regular season to a close in a Mar. 19 game with Prince George, with no postseason run in the cards. Overage forward Ashton Rome unleashed a monster shot from the blue line that was tipped in by TJ Mulock early in the first period, a power-play goal that would pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game. The Blazers’ last push ended in a 3-1 win over a playoff-bound team that was only slightly ahead of them in the standings, a moral victory for the team and valiant effort for the Kamloops home crowd.

It wasn’t how Rome would have diagramed the season if he had been given the opportunity. He started out with the Red Deer Rebels, but after only a handful of games, wound up playing for the Blazers.

“I guess you’re always surprised when you get traded,” Rome said recently. “I’ve been traded before, and the second time was definitely a surprise, especially early in the season like that. I think we were 14 games in and not doing too good in Red Deer.”

Rome was the captain and top scorer for the Rebels, but the team was young and they struggled with their defense. They decided to look to the future, and with Rome in his fourth and final WHL season, they opted to trade him.

“They wanted to rebuild this year, so they brought in a couple other players, and Kamloops was trying to make a run for it. I was shocked by it for sure, definitely disappointed a little bit. Playing for a guy like Sutter was a great experience.”

In Rome’s first game for Kamloops, the Blazers finished on the short end of a 3-2 score against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. It was only a couple minutes into the first period when Rome took a roughing penalty for going after a player who got a little too close to his goaltender. Later in the game, he would collect his first point, an assist, as a Blazer. Nine games later, Rome had compiled four goals and six assists. On Nov. 12, he would score the only goal for Kamloops and dominate a third period tilt with Vancouver defenseman John Flatters. Then, Kamloops team captain Reid Jorgensen went down with injury and Rome was chosen to take over the role during his absence. It was only Rome’s 10th game with the Blazers when he stepped onto the ice as captain.

The Blazers would struggle off and on for most of the season, but Rome remained on top of the team in scoring. He posted 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) and 130 penalty minutes in 65 games and spent 16 of those games as the team’s captain. When Jorgensen returned to the ice and resumed his post, Rome would continue to serve as one of the team’s alternates. The 20-year-old has, in fact, served as captain on all three of his WHL teams, and one might conclude that leadership comes natural to him. What doesn’t come natural for Rome is that his team did not advance to the postseason.

“It’s disappointing, for sure,” admitted Rome. “I’ve never not made the playoffs in my whole four years here, but we’re in a pretty tough division for this team. It is pretty disappointing, but I guess that kind of thing happens, and you’ve got to roll with it.”

The next few months will determine where Rome will land for the 2006-07 season. He hopes to turn pro, but, at the time of his interview with Hockey’s Future, had not received any word on whether Boston has included him in their plans or not.

“I think I’ve had a pretty good year,” he said. “I worked hard, put up some pretty decent numbers, but I think I’ve done what I want to do at this level and it’s time to move on.”

While it’s possible that Rome will have to wait until the end of the summer to find out if Boston is interested, it is also possible that he could get shot in Providence in the coming weeks. 2004 draft pick Kris Versteeg recently signed a tryout contract with the Providence Bruins while, according to the Providence Journal, Matt Lashoff, Boston’s top pick in 2005, is due to join the team now that his Kitchener Rangers have been bumped out of the playoffs.

Another enticing thought regarding AHL hockey in the Northeast is the prospect of competing against one of his older brothers, Aaron, who plays for the Portland Pirates. Ashton is the youngest of four hockey-playing brothers, hailing from Nesbitt, Manitoba, who have all played professionally at various levels.

“We’ve played against each other before,” Rome said of his brother, Aaron. “So if I play there (Providence), then it puts a little bit more pressure on me to play well, because my brother’s up there, and I want to kind of live up to how good he is.”

Until the time comes for him to make that jump, however, Ashton Rome can do little more than wait and make sure that he is prepared to play professionally, wherever that may be. He’s a motivated player coming off a strong season, and watching him play in the WHL, particularly in recent months, it was evident that he had outgrown the league. The 6’2 202 lb wing balances a tough physical game with a strong hockey sense and excellent puck control. He’s improved each year in the WHL, and if he continues on that track at the pro level, there’s real potential this fourth rounder could exceed expectations.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.