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Hockey Day A Habit For Ness

by Dan Myers / Minnesota Wild

Aaron Ness' Dream Hockey Day Lineup:

Game One: High School
Roseau vs. Warroad at Baudette Bay
"I'd love to see that one up there at Lake of the Woods again. That'd be a great game."

Game Two: College
Minnesota vs. UND at TCF Bank Stadium
"I love playing at their barn, but how about this one outdoors?"

Game Three: Pro
Wild vs New York Islanders at Xcel Energy Center
"With me wearing the blue and orange. That'd be pretty fun."

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While representing Roseau High School for Hockey Day Minnesota back in 2008 was certainly a thrill, there is a part of that February day that defenseman Aaron Ness would like to forget.

"To be honest, it was so cold, it might be one of my worst memories," said Ness, who would be become the eventual Mr. Hockey winner that season. "It was fierce, something like 40-below and the ice got really chippy."

But it wasn't all bad, considering his team won. The current Golden Gopher said playing in that game, which was staged on Baudette Bay in Lake of the Woods, was a tremendous once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"We actually had a lot of fans there," Ness said. "That was kind of a shock to me."

Hockey Day has become a tradition for the University of Minnesota junior. On February 12, he's expected to play in his fourth straight Hockey Day game, and third with the Gophers.
He will always remember his first experience with the event, which includes an all day telecast on Fox Sports North. Playing outdoors, with his friends, against a metro power in Blaine, was something Ness said he will remember for the rest of his life -- even though it probably wasn't the best game he's ever played.

"It was so cold that day, it really wasn't much of a skilled contest," Ness said. "It was a lot of dump and chase."

The Rams won the game 1-0 thanks to a shutout by goaltender Mike Lee -- now at St. Cloud State. It was also a preview of things to come for the Rams, who would play the Bengals less than a month later at the Xcel Energy Center in the opening round of the Class AA State Hockey Tournament. Roseau won that game 8-2.

One of the neatest parts of the experience for Ness was playing on television. Being from Roseau, the only time the Rams were televised to a statewide audience was in the state tournament. With Hockey Day, Ness and his buddies were able to showcase their talent for everyone to see.

"Not every game is on TV. That's what you play for," said the second round pick of the New York Islanders in 2008. "It's like playing at the state tournament. You gotta show what you got because that might be your only opportunity [to play on TV]."

The chance to play Blaine, a metro squad, also gave the Rams a boost, especially on their home ice.

"That was big for us," Ness said. "We didn't see a lot of those teams, so for us to show what we had, and maybe scare a couple of other teams down there, it was great. Playing them in the first round of the state tournament, they knew what we had and we knew what they had."

The opportunity to see Ness and his highly ranked Rams was a treat for many metro viewers who otherwise wouldn't have seen Roseau until March. With Ness on the blueline, Lee in goal and Tyler Landman up front, the Rams boasted three Division I players and a pair of National Hockey League draft picks. All that talent from a town with about 2,500 residents.

"That's what's so special about Roseau," Ness said. "It's such a hockey oriented place. They are wild about hockey up there. When we were in the state tournament, that town was dead. There was nobody left up there.

"There is so much support there and such great opportunities there, it's definitely a hotbed if you ever want to play hockey."

Ness doesn't know how many more Hockey Days he will be a part of, but says the experiences he's had have definitely been ones to remember.

"There's nothing like it anywhere else in the country," Ness said. "Not many people will ever get the opportunity [to play on Hockey Day Minnesota], so having that opportunity to play on TV, especially here in Minnesota, the hockey state, it's really special."

Ness' Roseau Rams will be a part of the celebration this year as they will take on another metro power, Wayzata, this time on the outdoor ice in Moorhead. You can also catch Ness and the Gophers as they take on the University of Denver at Mariucci Arena at 5:00.
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