With another trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs upon him, Arron Asham says that if driving the team bus will keep him in the NHL someday, he’ll gladly take the keys. After all, this will be the 10th time Asham has gone to the playoffs in his career and it never gets old.
In fact, there is nothing the New York Rangers’ enforcer would rather do than play hockey and now, less than three weeks removed from his 35th birthday, he’s hoping to have a lot more years in front of him.
“I’ve played 13 years in this league and I have another year left on this contract and then I’d like to play some more,” said the product of Portage la Prairie who is now playing for his sixth NHL team. “I’ve played for every team in the Atlantic but I hope that maybe I can retire in New York. We’ve been in our current house for seven years, ever since I played for the Islanders. I like this organization and I like playing in New York.
“Our travel is so good. I can sleep in my own bed most nights. This trip to Winnipeg is our longest trip this year. Within the Division, our longest trip is Pittsburgh and it’s seven hours by car. We charter back every night. I love the game, I love being around the game and I don’t ever want to leave.”
Tomorrow night, Asham’s Rangers will open the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Washington Capitals. It’s been a long road to his 10th trip to the post-season.
Asham came out of the Portage Bantam Terriers in 1994 and went off to Red Deer to play for the Western Hockey League’s Rebels. He played for Canada’s national under-18 team in 1995 and was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round (71st overall) of the 1996 NHL entry draft.
“Montreal originally drafted me as a goal scorer (he had just scored 45 and 43 goals in each of his final two seasons in the WHL), but when I got there, I was playing four or five minutes and fighting as often as I could, trying to make a name for myself,” said Asham, a cousin of both Arnold Asham the curler and Arnold Asham the newspaper publisher. “By the time I got to the Flyers in 2008, I was playing third line minutes and giving the Flyers some secondary scoring. I’ve been able to stay in the game so long because I’ve been able to adapt my game to different situations.”
Back in 2010, former Minnesota Wild assistant general manager Tom Thompson, now a scout with the Rangers, called Asham, “a survivor.”
“He’s one of those rare players who has been able to adapt his game to the demands of the team for which he’s playing,” Thompson said. “He can be a tough guy, he can score, he can skate pretty well, he can be a checker. He keeps getting signed to contracts because he can adapt to any situation.”
Asham would not disagree. After all, he’s played 783 NHL games, but early in his career, when he spent parts of five seasons with AHL’s Fredericton Canadiens and Quebec Citadelles, there was some thought that he might not carve out much of an NHL career at all.
“I’ve now played for every team in the Atlantic Division (Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Penguins and now Rangers, in that order) and I think that says that these teams keep seeing me and they feel they want me on their roster,” the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Asham said. “If you want to play a long time in this league, you have to do what you have to do. I just feel I can be whatever a team needs me to be.”
Although he’s lived in New York with his wife, son and two daughters for almost a decade, Asham still returns to Manitoba every summer to run his charity golf tournament and softball tournament in Portage and then get in a little fishing in the north. He’s a New Yorker by profession, but a Manitoban at heart.
“Yeah, I come home three weeks every summer and I really enjoy it,” he said. “I have a lot of friends and a lot of family in this province. They say all the Ashams are related and that might be true. There are sure a lot of us and we’re from all over the province, Crane River, Kinasota, Ste. Rose and all over the north. It’s great to get back home every summer.”
For now, however, Asham will concentrate on another trip to the post-season, the time of year he loves more than any other.
“There is nothing more fun than the playoffs,” he said. “I love to play, but I love to play even more when the game is at its most competitive. And when you’re playing in May, the game is at its most competitive.”