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A season to remember for Ness

by Adam Schwartz

While Roseau, Minn., may be one of the more hockey-crazed towns in the state, it never produced a winner of the Mr. Hockey Award -- not until Aaron Ness was honored as the state's best high school hockey player last season.

Along with the honor, the week of March 17-21 was declared, "Aaron Ness Week" in Roseau.

"It was really special," Ness said. "To be the first from Roseau to win that award in a hockey community like that is pretty cool. You look at the guys who won it in the past, and there are a heck of a lot of good hockey players there. So to be named that was pretty special."

At 5-foot-10 and 157 pounds, Ness is undersized for a defenseman, but is a silky-smooth skater who can get physical if the game calls for it. 

NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee said Ness' skating is his strong suit, and he is an intelligent defenseman who knows when to join the rush. 

"Aaron is flamboyant and colorful," Barzee said. "He is very quick; everything about him is quick -- his hands are quick, his feet are quick. He is a very good skater and he is gritty and physical. He'll step right into you without fear -- he picks his spot when he does it. He's a little more polished than some of the other high school defensemen with his passing and playmaking. When I look at him he is quicker than Brian Leetch was at this age and he's as fast as John-Michael Liles was at the same age."

Roseau coach Scott Oliver marvels at Ness' ability to move the puck, and he relied on him as much as he could during the season.

"I think he's in the top 10 all-time (in the state)," Oliver said "He sees the ice and moves the puck better than any player I've ever seen. He reminds me of Phil Housley. I kept him on the ice as much as I could. He's a dynamic player and has got a real good gas tank. Even when he was tired he probably wouldn't tell me. He's very passionate about the game and a real pleasure to coach."

Ness isn't sure that he'll turn out quite as good as Housley, second all-time among American-born NHL scorers, but is honored to be mentioned in the same breath.

"I think he's in the top 10 all-time (in the state). He sees the ice and moves the puck better than any player I've ever seen. He reminds me of Phil Housley."
-- Roseau coach Scott Oliver

"It's pretty flattering to hear that," Ness said of his comparison to Housley. "I don't know if that's quite true yet. But to even hear that name close to mine is pretty cool."

Ness had 28 goals and 72 points in just 31 games and was No. 10 in scoring among Minnesota high school players. With numbers like that it is obvious he isn't afraid to jump into the play.

"I'm an offensive defenseman," Ness said. "I try to jump up into the play and be the fourth forward. I always try to stick to what I'm good at. Use my head and my quick feet and hands to overcome bigger players."

Ness did an admirable job in battling bigger players when he led Roseau to a 25-0 record during the regular season and a fourth-place finish at the Minnesota state tournament.

Ness will remain in-state to play at the University of Minnesota next season. Golden Gophers coach Don Lucia is pleased to have Ness, he knows his recruit needs to improve and bulk up. 

"He's got a way to go, physically," Lucia told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "He'll have an adjustment period, coming right out of high school. But he's got a lot of things you can't teach; he's going to be a good player, no question about that. I couldn't be more excited he's going to be a Gopher."

The Islanders are just as excited to have him as a part of their future.

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