Vancouver Canucks' Aaron Rome has stepped up in a big way after an injury sidelined fellow defenceman Dam Hamhuis. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
BOSTON -- The Staals from Thunder Bay, Ont. would never be confused with the Romes from Nesbitt, Man. But there are similarities between the two sets of hockey-mad kin.
Both families have four boys who grew up on a farm and spent oodles of free-time with highly-contested hockey games of their own. While Eric and Jordan Staal each have a Stanley Cup ring, Aaron Rome hopes to earn his second if the Vancouver Canucks can take advantage of their 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final and close out the deal on the Boston Bruins.
Rome won his first NHL championship in a bit role with the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, but because he only played one playoff game that spring he never did get his name etched on the Stanley Cup. This time around, Rome began the Canucks playoff run on the sidelines as a depth player, but his steady play and an injury to Dan Hamhuis has earned him an augmented role with Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault and supplanted the more experienced and higher salaried Keith Ballard in the lineup.
"Aaron, he's been one of our most consistent defencemen as far as his defensive reads, moving the puck," Vigneault said. "He makes real high-percentage, plays within his limits. He's a good physical presence out there. When the opportunity is there to play the man, he does. We're really happy with how he's played."
That was obvious when the dependable Hamhuis left the series opener on Wednesday with an undisclosed injury. Vigneault moved Rome from the sixth spot on the depth chart to Hamhuis' spot alongside Bieksa in that game and again for Game 2. Although Rome took a couple of unnecessary second-period penalties he was solid enough in the Canucks 3-2 overtime win.
Rome, a 2002 fourth-round Los Angeles Kings draft pick, took a while to make it to the NHL. After five junior seasons with Saskatoon, Kootenay, Swift Current and Moose Jaw in the WHL, Rome performed in another 325 AHL games in the minors.
He had stints with the Ducks and the Columbus Blue Jackets, but didn't get his first full-time role until last season when Canucks shutdown defenceman Willie Mitchell suffered a season-ending concussion in January. With all the different aliments that inflicted the Canucks blue-line, Rome again was pressed into action and played a career-high 56 games.
His family has a 1,000-acre grain farm in Nesbitt, population 30, and 20 minutes south of Brandon, where he and his wife now make their off-season home.
"I don't even know if it's that big anymore," he said. "When we were kids there were two grain elevators and the main focus was in town was a hall and a general store where you picked up your mail."
Aaron, 27, is the second youngest of four boys and the only one so far to reach the NHL. Ryan, 31, and Reagan, 29, played at the minor pro level. Ashton, 25, the only non-defenceman of the bunch, patrols right wing for the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
There wasn't much to do on the farm other than play hockey in the winter, baseball in the summer and sometimes the competitiveness stretched to the family's ping pong or pool tables.
"Growing up on a farm kept us out of town," Aaron said. "So we were really focused on hockey. We had a lot of fun doing it."
His mom and dad, Karen and Dennis, as well as Reagan were in Vancouver to enjoy the first two games, and Ashton, who lives just outside of Boston, will be present for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
"I'm the quiet, reserved one," Aaron said. "My three brothers are outspoken and rambunctious. They like to have a good time."
Aaron played his minor hockey in nearby Souris, the small town that former NHL coach Andy Murray hails from. For seven years, Rome was on a team with only 10 skaters and a goalie, but yet every season they challenged for the provincial A title. Rome played primarily on a five-man unit, in which each of the kids -- Chris Falloon (Prince George), Travis Young (Brandon), Michael Young (Brandon) and Jared Lang (Prince George) -- all went on to play in the WHL.
So what kept Rome chasing his dream despite having to spend all that time in the minors?
"When you're in the minors, you want to get into the NHL," he said. "When you get to the NHL you want to play well enough to earn a full-time job. For me, after doing that it's all about small steps. You want a bigger role with the team.
"What has kept me going is that I want to be as good as I can be. When you get to the NHL you play alongside some pretty good players and you're forced to get better. I played with defencemen like Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin in Anaheim and my education has continued here in Vancouver with the likes of Sami Salo and Bieksa, even though he isn't much older than me. For me, there always are things to learn and improve on."
Vigneault and the Canucks like Rome's attitude.
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