|Roseau High School defenseman Aaron Ness has become a celebrity in his hometown in Minnesota.|
"You look at the youth teams and programs in the area and all the kids are aspiring to be little Aaron Nesses," Pelowski told NHL.com. "We have a unique little town (with a population of 2,800), and hockey is just so big. To have a player accomplish what Aaron has done in three years had a huge impact on our entire town."
After becoming the first player from Roseau to earn Minnesota's Mr. Hockey Award, Pelowski officially declared March 17-21 “Aaron Ness Week.” And why not? In 88 high school games, Ness had 44 goals, 100 assists and was an astounding plus-133.
"When Roseau returned from the state tournament (held at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul) and we had our welcome-home celebration, we issued a proclamation for Aaron Ness Week and felt he certainly warranted it because he was the talk of the town," admitted Pelowski, who has held office for 10 years.
The Mr. Hockey Award, given to the outstanding senior high school hockey player in the state, is selected by a panel of NHL scouts, Division I coaches and selected media throughout Minnesota. Ness beat out nine high-profile performers, including Jake Gardiner of Minnetonka High School and Justin Jokinen of Cloquet, for the honor. According to the Central Scouting Service, the three high school performers are among the top 60 skaters from North America eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, to be held June 20-21 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. The left-handed shooting Ness, rated 35th, could go in the second or third round.
Minnetonka head coach Brian Urick thought Ness was a natural.
"He's one of the smartest players I've ever seen and he makes all the right plays," Urick said. "He needs to get a little stronger, but defensively, he has the makeup needed to someday play professionally."
And to think, he's only 17 years old.
"When I received Mr. Hockey, I was shocked, to be honest," Ness said. "There were tons of great players up for the award and it was an honor to be put into the same category. If I'm lucky enough to be drafted in Ottawa, I know I'll be very excited, but that'll be short-lived as I will continue to learn and improve both on and off the ice."
Coincidentally, this year's Ms. Hockey winner in Minnesota was Ness' girlfriend, senior Sarah Erickson of Bemidji High School. Erickson scored 42 goals to lead Bemidji to a runner-up finish in the Section 8AA tournament. She also captained the U.S. Women's National Under-18 team to a gold medal in the inaugural International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's U18 championships in Calgary this past winter.
Ness, the Associated Press State Player of the Year, started as a freshman under the tutelage of head coach Scott Oliver and proved his ability with 18 assists in 30 games to help lead Roseau to a 24-6 record and a state tournament appearance. As a sophomore, he contributed 13 goals and 38 assists, and led the Rams (29-2) to their seventh Class AA state championship. This past season, he recorded his first hat trick en route to career highs in goals (28), assists (44) and plus-minus rating (plus-67) to assist Roseau (29-2) to a fourth-place showing in the state tournament.
"Winning that state championship last season was the most memorable moment of my high school career," said Ness.
Ness also has carried a 3.8 grade-point average despite an incredible courseload. Since September, he has been taking eight classes per day and three more online in an effort to graduate this spring, skip his senior year and begin playing hockey at the University of Minnesota next season.
As such, "free time is very limited," said Ness, who is preparing for the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championship in Kazan, Russia (April 13-23). "A regular day for me includes wake up at 7 a.m., attending class until 3:30, going to practice until 5:30, working out for an hour, heading back home to study and do homework and then getting on the ice again from 8 until 10 p.m. Then I finally get some sleep before starting the same routine again the next morning.
"I've always set high goals for myself and I set a goal to get to the highest level of college hockey, the NHL and even the Olympics. But I know with that comes the commitment of making them happen."
"I find it absolutely amazing that he's able to handle that workload," Pelowski said. "I have a daughter who is a senior as Roseau and it's extremely difficult to carry one year's worth of classes. I can't imagine having two years compressed into one. But that's the type of kid he is and one of the reasons we did the proclamation."
Oliver has little doubt Ness will fulfill his academic obligations.
"Aaron wants to play in the NHL, and in order to get there he must play college hockey, so he's determined to get there as quick as possible," Oliver said. "Hockey has always been Aaron's passion and, for the last three seasons, the training and time he put in to become the player he is was second to none. He sees the ice and moves the puck as well as any player I have coached or played against. He reminds me of a young Phil Housley (from St. Paul, Minn.). He can skate, handle the puck and see the ice so well."
Despite his stature (5-foot-10, 170 pounds), Oliver feels Ness eventually will become a solid professional.
"His hand speed, stick skills and explosiveness are what set him apart from the other guy," Oliver said. "He won't move that guy in front, but he's going to be able to defend his stick by using his hand strength and smarts. And let's not forget, he hasn't even filled out yet, so he's going to get bigger and stronger. He already has a tremendous work ethic on and off the ice and that's half the battle."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.