25th Anniversary Special – Top 25 Rebels in franchise history; No. 5 Arron Asham
He holds the franchise record for regular-season goals, assists and points, no small feat for a player who never weighed more than 180 pounds as a member of the Red Deer Rebels.
Arron Asham was truly a talented WHL player, but he also freed up plenty of room for himself with his physical, fearless style.
“Ash was a real special guy. He had such a combination of skill and toughness,” said Lethbridge Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt, who coached Asham during the first of four seasons he played in Red Deer.
“He could beat you in so many different ways,” Anholt continued. “He could really skate and he loved to play the game. He was a bit of a character off the ice and that kind of endeared him to his teammates in a lot of different ways.
“But he could make a play, he could score and he could fight, too.”
A listed player, Asham left his home and family in Portage la Prairie, Man., in the fall of 1994 to join the Rebels.
“Leaving home when you’re 16 years old is a tough thing to do, but I had great support,” Asham told Troy Gillard of 106.7 The Drive while in Red Deer last May for the Memorial Cup tournament.
“Carter Sears, our scout, drove out and picked me up and brought me out here, so without him doing that you never know where I’d be today. I have to thank Carter for that.
“Coming out here as a young boy and growing into a man while meeting a lot of people and having the community accept us . . . it was just a great experience.”
Asham was one of five 16-year-olds with the Rebels during the ’94-95 campaign, joining fellow forward Jay Henderson, defencemen Jesse Wallin and Lance Ward and netminder Mike Whitney. All but Whitney went on to play in the NHL.
Asham had the longest NHL career of the five, appearing in 861 games over 15 seasons, spread out among the Montreal Canadiens, who selected him in the third round of the 1996 entry draft, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers.
Unlike his WHL career, he didn’t put up big offensive numbers in the NHL, but earned his pay as a hard-nosed performer who could keep the opposition honest.
Asham, who carried 205 pounds on his five-foot-11 frame, scored 105 goals and collected 227 points in The Show while racking up 1,060 minutes in penalties.
He was an efficient scrapper during his time in the NHL, a talent he carried forth from the major junior level.
Anholt fondly remembers one of Asham’s WHL fights, a spirited bout with Swift Current Broncos forward Tyler Willis.
“It was right in front of our bench, two real tough middleweights,” Anholt reminisced. “It stands out in my mind. It’s funny how one fight can stand out like that, but it was a real unbelievable tilt.
“He had such a real special combination of skill and toughness and he loved to play the game.”
Asham scored 11 goals and added 16 assists as a Rebels rookie, and Anholt could clearly see that bigger things were on the horizon for the young forward.
“You knew he was going to be a great player as long as he took care of himself off the ice,” said Anholt. “That was the biggest thing some of the guys had to learn and realize, and he did, and good for him to do that.”
Asham exploded for 32 goals and 77 regular-season points in ’95-96 and added another six goals and nine points in 10 playoff games.
The following year he took his game to yet another level, contributing 45 goals and 96 points during the regular season and ringing up 26 post-season points (12g,14a) as the Rebels advanced to the Eastern Conference final where they fell in five games to the eventual league champion Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“We had a lot of high hopes that year and just a couple of bad bounces and we came up short,” he told Gillard. “We thought we had the team to beat Lethbridge and go to the Memorial Cup. It still bothers me to this day that we lost to Lethbridge.”
Asham recorded 92 regular-season points (43g,49a) and another two assists in five playoff games during his final winter in Red Deer.
All told, he produced 131 goals, 161 assists and 292 points in WHL regular-season play, establishing Rebels career records in all three categories that still stand.
Asham never won a Stanley Cup during his years in the NHL but enjoyed an impressive run with the Flyers in the spring of 2010 when Philadelphia fell to Chicago in the championship series.
He appeared in a total of 72 playoff contests and felt he was at his best when winter turned to spring.
“When playoff time came around my game stepped up and I was fortunate enough to help a few teams,” he told Gillard. “I came up a little short for the Stanley Cup, but it was just an honour to have the chance to compete for it.
“Overall it was a pretty decent career.”
Asham is currently working with the New York Islanders youth hockey program and he and Islanders president/GM Garth Snow coached a peewee team during the 2015-16 season.
“It’s good to give back,” he said. “Hockey has given me so much.”