Skating on an island of opportunity, New York Islanders defenseman Aaron Ness
is trying to make the most of his.
Since being called up on an emergency basis Feb. 6, Ness has played in eight straight games and is hoping to turn his dream into a full-time job.
“It’s what you dream about, it’s why you play the game,” Ness said. “To finally be here has been a lot of fun and it’s a good process to go through. I’ve grown to love it already.”
Ness’s debut was a tight, defensive battle in a raucous Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where the Islanders won 1-0 in a shootout. With family members in attendance, the bright lights of a first NHL game and a mid-game injury to an already depleted defense, it could have been easy for the rookie to get overwhelmed. Ness handled himself like a veteran though, believing in his game and not trying to do too much.
Seven games later, Ness says he’s been welcomed into the fold with open arms and feels like one of the guys.
“You feel like one of them in a hurry,” Ness said. “It obviously helped the initial transition having a couple Bridgeport guys here, having someone show you the ropes a little more. Once you get to know everyone, they’re all good guys.”
Ness played an average of 14:33 in his first two NHL games, but Head Coach Jack Capuano liked what he saw from the youngster. Capuano promptly rewarded Ness with more ice time and responsibility. In his last five games, Ness averaged over 18 minutes of ice time, the highest of all four defensive call-ups this season.
“I’m not afraid to give anybody from Bridgeport an opportunity when they come up,” Capuano said. “Ness fits that category the same. He comes up and he’s playing well, he’s earned his ice time.”
Ness’s played a season-high 20:40 against Florida on Feb. 12. It’s not only how much ice time he’s been getting, but the situations he’s playing in and who he is playing against. Playing with shutdown specialist Andrew MacDonald
means big minutes against the opposition’s top talent.
“He’s an incredible hockey player,” Ness said of his new partner. “He helps with all the little things, whether it’s (telling me to) keep your stick on the ice in certain situations or letting me know who we are out there against. It’s been a pleasure and hopefully I can continue to play with him.”
I’m not afraid to give anybody from Bridgeport an opportunity when they come up. Ness fits that category the same. He comes up and he’s playing well, he’s earned his ice time." - Jack Capuano, head coach
MacDonald likes what he’s seen from his partner and how he’s handling himself in the big league.
“I think he’s done a great job stepping in,” MacDonald said. “When I talked to him after his first game, he said he was just trying to keep things simple. He did a really good job of that and as each game goes on you can see his confidence growing. He’s playing like an NHL defenseman.”
Ness doesn’t bring the physical presence of fellow Isles blueliner’s Travis Hamonic
or Milan Jurcina
, but MacDonald said that it hasn’t been a problem for the undersized Ness.
“He’s not going to take any runs at guys or go for the big hit,” MacDonald said. “It’s all about having a good stick, good body positioning on the bigger players. There are a lot of power forwards that are obviously going to out-muscle you and you have to outsmart them.”
Ness hasn’t been on the wrong end of too many big hits or turnovers. He finished Thursday’s 5-1 loss to St. Louis with a plus-1 rating and hasn’t been a minus in any of his first six NHL games.
“They are giving me a shot,” Ness said. “It’s been going pretty well so far. I feel comfortable out there now and as each game comes, I feel more comfortable.”
Ness’s opportunity has washed ashore on Long Island and with the way he’s played through his first taste of the NHL, he hopes to avoid a ferry ride back to Bridgeport any time soon.