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BOSTON (AP) – Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome wouldn’t change much about the hit on Boston’s Nathan Horton that got him suspended for the rest of the Stanley Cup finals.
Rome spoke Sunday for the first time about his finals-record four-game suspension after skating with the Canucks in practice heading into Game 6 on Monday.
“I’ve got to play on the edge, and I guess that was a little bit over the edge,” Rome said.
While Rome has sympathy for Horton, who’s out for the series with a concussion, he doesn’t feel he did anything extraordinarily dangerous in their fast, hard-hitting sport when he flattened Horton early in Game 3 last week. Rome said he sent a text message to Horton, but hadn’t heard back.
“It’s a split-second decision,” Rome said. “There’s no intent to hurt anybody. If I could go back, obviously I’d wish he didn’t get hurt, but I don’t think I’d change the decision on the play.”
Rome delivered his hit after Horton made a pass near the blue line, leaving the Boston forward unconscious on the ice. Horton left the building on a stretcher, and the Bruins rode a wave of emotion to consecutive victories at home.
While Rome was vilified in Boston, his teammates jumped to his defense, claiming a four-game ban was excessive and unprecedented. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault thought the hit was late, but remained supportive of Rome.
Although Rome’s ban is four times longer than any suspension handed out in finals history, he hasn’t appealed it, hinting that he feels such a move is pointless. Rome said the NHL’s suspension criteria were “arbitrary,” and he doesn’t understand why the league ended his chance to skate for the Stanley Cup after a hit he believes was barely illegal.
“I’ve got to step up. I’ve got to be physical,” Rome said. “That’s just part of my game. There has to be some accountability on the part of the player skating with the puck up the middle of the ice, maybe with his head down, not looking. If I had been half a second earlier, a quarter of a second earlier, I probably wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Rome understands why Horton might not be returning his texts, noting he felt similar emotions after San Jose’s Jamie McGinn boarded him from behind during the Western Conference finals, giving Rome an apparent concussion that forced him to sit out two games.
Rome had no significant history as a dirty player before this hit. The journeyman defenseman has played in 131 NHL games with three clubs over the past five seasons, bouncing up and down from the AHL before earning a full-time job in Vancouver this year.
Yet his hit inspired the Bruins. Before Game 4, Hall of Famer Bobby Orr waved a flag with Horton’s name and No. 18 on it during a stirring pregame tribute.
Horton’s injury was the most serious development in an uncommonly bad-tempered finals, which began with Vancouver forward Alex Burrows’ apparent bite of Patrice Bergeron’s finger, followed by related taunts from both teams. Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo also made headlines after Game 5 with comments deemed to be disrespectful of Boston goalie Tim Thomas.
Vancouver leads the series 3-2 going into Monday’s game.
Rome’s absence has forced the Canucks to use every bit of their deep defensive corps. After veteran Keith Ballard replaced Rome in Game 4, Vancouver rookie Chris Tanev played splendidly in Game 5 as the Canucks pushed Boston to the brink of elimination.
Rome will be a spectator for the rest of June, but he’s still working up a sweat in the Canucks’ practices.
“You want to be a part of it,” Rome said. “Just because I’m not playing, I’m not going to mope about it and hide in a cave. It’s a way to relieve some stress and be part of it. … This is nothing that you want to go through, but it makes you stronger and makes you look on the bright side of things.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)