As the Super Bowl festivities began Sunday evening, New York eyes were focused on the Giants. Up in Bridgeport, Conn., defenseman Aaron Ness’s were, too. That is, until the phone rang.
“I got the call and it was obviously pretty good news,” Ness said. “I’ll remember that Super Bowl for a while now. It’s exciting to be here.”
With Travis Hamonic (nose, two weeks) and Milan Jurcina (elbow day-to-day) out due to injury, the Islanders needed an emergency replacement for Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia. Coming off of an 11-1-1 start to 2012, there are many Sound Tigers worthy of the call, but for his efforts at Harbor Yard, Ness will lace up his skates in his first National Hockey League game.
“When you’re down there, you are more focused on those games and that team,” Ness said. “That’s who you are with. You play for each other and if you get lucky enough to get the chance up here, you’ve got to take full advantage of it.”
Ness ranks second in scoring among Sound Tigers defensemen with 17 points (2g/15a), including six assists during the teams’ hot stretch.
“He’s a quick, puck-moving defenseman,” Jack Capuano said. “He’s a guy that has good feet, he’s got good vision, he snaps the puck hard in his first pass.”
Dylan Reese, who played with Ness in Bridgeport earlier this season, witnessed his abilities first-hand.
“He’s a great puck-mover and a good two-way guy,” Reese said of the Isles second round pick in 2008. “His skating allows him to take chances because he can recover and I’m excited to see him play up here.”
Having skated with the team in training camp should make the transition easier. So should the familiar faces in the Isles locker room. Tim Wallace, Rhett Rakhshani, Nino Niederreiter and Reese have all played in Bridgeport this season.
“From camps and stuff too, I know most of these guys,” Ness said. “We’ve got a good group of guys in here and they’ve been nothing but great to me so far and hopefully that continues.”
It’s impossible to replicate the speed, skill and size of the NHL anywhere else and Ness’s first game could come in a raucous building against a big-bodied Flyers team.
Reese’s advice for Ness in his first game was the same he received before his first NHL game: just play your game, it’s what got you here.
During Monday’s practice, Ness was paired with veteran Mark Eaton, who scored the game-winner Friday night in his 600th game. The rookie looks to learn from the veteran and doesn’t expect much difficulty being paired with a new partner.
“I think it’ll be easy,” he said. “All these guys are great hockey players. There’s plenty of talk and I’m going to learn a lot here.”
The Roseau, MN, native hopes to see his parents in the stands at Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night. For the Ness clan, Tuesday’s game will easily trump the Super Bowl and for the defenseman, being in the NHL is a dream come true.
“It’s exciting,” he said smiling. “It’s why we play the game.”