METHUEN—As a top competitive cheerleader in her high school days, Methuen's Mackenzie (Morin) Rome had little time for ice hockey.
"My dad was a big Bruins fan, and my uncle coached hockey in Methuen, but I never even liked it," said Mackenzie. "But these days, I eat, sleep and breathe hockey, can't get enough of it."
She caught the hockey bug in 2007 when a friend introduced her to then-Worcester Shark Ashton Rome. Four months ago, she married into the game. And yesterday, she and Ashton got to show off for the hockey folks in the Merrimack Valley.
As a player on the American Hockey League champion Hershey Bears, Ashton, by tradition, gets to possess the famed Calder Cup trophy— the minor league version of the Stanley Cup — for two days.
There wasn't enough time to bring it to his home town of Nesbitt, Manitoba (pop. 1,500). So he brought it to his new home, Methuen.
"On Thursday, I have to FedEx it to a teammate in Ontario, but this is our home now, too, so it's great to have it here," said the 24-year-old Rome, who has played four years of minor league hockey. "The Calder Cup playoffs are a physical and mental grind, just like the Stanley Cup playoffs. You have to win four seven-game series. So it's pretty rewarding to be able to do something like this."
The AHL is the level of hockey right below the NHL. Rome, who was drafted at 18 by the Boston Bruins but didn't sign, was re-drafted by the San Jose Sharks at age 20.
He has competed at the ECHL and AHL levels over his pro career with the dream of making it to the NHL still burning strong. And recently, Mackenzie joined in that quest.
"I know he's going to make it," she said.
To Ashton, Methuen feels like the big city, and he's grown to embrace it.
"This is where we'll make our home," Ms. Rome added.
Logistically, it's a perfect fit, especially coming off Hershey's long run to the Cup title.
"Basically, I've got two months total to prepare for training camp, so it was a lot easier to stay here instead of heading back to Manitoba," Ashton said.
Rome has a big September ahead. A strong playoff showing with the Bears, Washington's AHL affiliate, scoring five points with a plus-6 in 10 games, has landed him an invitation to the Capitals' training camp.
"I'm still on an AHL contract, but to have the opportunity to get in there and compete in NHL camp is all I can ask for," said Rome, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound power forward.
But this is the summer and for the champion, it's a time for a little bit of a celebration. That brought him, his family and friends to the Plantation Grille last night, with the Cup of course.
"The Cup has been around for a long, long time (since 1937)," he said. "It's an awesome experience."