Prince Rupert’s Rick Roemer grew up in one of the most Canadian ways you could probably imagine.
Born and raised in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, which is close to Dartmouth and has been a naval aviation base known as ’12 Wing Shearwater’, for almost 100 years, Rick’s early experiences in life included hockey, lots of snow, outdoor play and knowing what it’s like to serve the country, having a dad in the armed forces.
“I was never home,” said Rick.
“As long as I was home for supper and my mom knew where I was [everything was fine],” said the captain of the Prince Rupert Fire Department last week.
“It was really a lot of fun. We didn’t have to worry about the children getting hurt or some of the things parents worry about today. If you got hurt, you got hurt and parents cared. There was always a parent on the block that knew where we were on the base,” he said.
While he had a hand (or foot) in all sports, such as fastball, football and soccer, it was hockey that Rick gravitated towards, even if he started a little late by today’s standards.
“It wasn’t until I was 7 that I started really skating. My dad used to take us out on the pond, but then the armed forces base finally built a rink and we started playing hockey then,” said Rick.
Scouted to play university football, as well as hockey, Rick chose the on-ice route after the football program folded due to costs midway through his time at post-secondary. He played puck for four years at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Coached by Pierre Pagé, a former NHL head coach in Colorado, Calgary, Minnesota, Anaheim and Quebec, Rick developed his skills as a solid defenceman – one who could skate, hit, pass and definitely shoot.
“I was very fortunate to learn under Pagé, who [specialized as] a shooting instructor,” he said.
Growing up as a defenceman due to the rather arbitrary reasoning that Rick could skate backwards while some of the other kids couldn’t, Rick honed his abilities on the blueline and enjoyed the opportunities afforded to him as one of six players on the back-end rather than one of 12 players at the forward position.
“I got to be in all situations … I like being involved in the whole play. As a defenceman you basically get a chance to handle the puck. I think defencemen need to [learn to] handle the puck instead of passing it away in minor hockey … I was always able to play more because we were short defencemen,” said Rick.
“You have to be able to do everything a forward has to do and you also have to know how to protect the net … It seemed I was more into the game than when I was playing forward.”
After attending St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick for a year and graduating, Rick looked westward and took some advice from friends on Canada’s other coast to move across the country and play for one of the best senior hockey teams in B.C., the Prince Rupert Kings.
“I had never been to the west coast, so I phoned [Kings’ coach] George Kuntz and he said basically, ‘When can you get here?’. So within a couple weeks I was out here,” said Rick.
The rearguard played on powerful Kings’ squads in the early 1980s and made up an important part of its blueline.
“We had a strong team. There were lots of characters on that team and everyone got along well … I only lasted two to three years [on the squad] and then [the team] began dwindling off [as northern teams began to fold] … and as I got into the fire department, the fire chief of the day wasn’t overly excited that I was playing senior hockey,” he said.
“When I came out here I had always thought of [being a member of] the fire department or RCMP. I like that kind of challenge and the idea of helping people and has always been something I don’t mind doing. It’s a nice way to do it.”
Rick had previous training in Dartmouth in learning how to be a firefighter and in Prince Rupert, he began his career fighting flames in July of 1982. This year, on Dec. 31, Rick will retire after 33 and a half years with the department.
“It’s been great. There have been lots of hardships in it, but there has been lots of good too and if I dwell on the good points, then it’s been a fantastic job that I certainly wouldn’t trade for any other, or a straight day job,” he said.
“There are some really ugly incidents, but there are also some really good incidents where we’ve actually helped people survive and those are the things that I like to think about. The ugly parts of our job are daily.”
And while Rick may have grown up toughing it out through blustery east coast snow storms and sliding off his roof into powdery snow banks in a classic Canadian scene taken straight out of a Tim Horton’s commercial, it was a journey through the U.S. in 2011 that made him feel most patriotic and, more importantly, proud to be a Canadian public servant.
“I rode down to New York [on my motorcycle] for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with a group of firefighters and they had their crests [on their jackets] and stuff like that … I’ve never seen so much patriotism in my life,” Rick said.
“Our route was mapped out and different fire departments knew when we were coming and at every overpass they had their ladders with big American flags. It was just amazing – it was something to see. And everywhere we stopped for the night, we were treated like kings. The people in the States were utterly fantastic.”
Now Rick takes part in many Prince Rupert Harley Riders’ events, having bought his first Harley Davidson bike in 2005 and his most recent one, an Ultra Glide, in 2013.
He’s also on the ice most weekday mornings, working with the hockey academy in Prince Rupert – a school teaching Grade 7 and 8 students skills, hockey IQ, tactical plays, fitness and nutrition – to teach the kids how to play the game right, and even offer school credit with its completion in January.
But most of all, Rick is one of the thousands who enjoy the city’s people.
“There’s a fantastic number of great people in this community … I’ve found lots of opportunities to do the things I like doing and a lot of people I enjoy doing them with,” he said.