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Year of the Ram: Separating the herd

The performance of 17-year-old defensman Aaron Ness will be key if Roseau hopes to repeat as state champions. (Photo by Connie Koenig)

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The performance of 17-year-old defensman Aaron Ness will be key if Roseau hopes to repeat as state champions. (Photo by Connie Koenig)

As you read this, there are 42 students at Roseau High School in Northern Minnesota with a lot on their minds.

If they’re not learning American history or trigonometry, they’re on the ice, hoping to make the cut as a member of the Roseau Rams senior hockey team. This is the week where their place in Roseau history will be made for the year.

Try-outs began Monday, under the watchful eye of coach Scott Oliver, a former football player who had a cup of coffee in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts.

Every day this week, the team would learn coach Oliver’s systems; the Roseau system.

On Monday, it was defensive zone coverage; Tuesday, neutral zone coverage; and on from there, the 42 student-athletes divided up into two squads, practicing for an hour and 45 minutes each day.

But the weekend is where Oliver will “separate the herd.”

Friday, there will be two 45-minute scrimmages. Saturday, there will be five more. By Monday, the 42 students will, with maybe an exception or two, be divided into the senior squad – the one that will defend the school’s 2007 state championship – and the junior varsity team; the boys who will make up the future squads and provide back-up based on injuries or if any of them are playing too well at the JV level to be ignored.

Aaron Ness is there, and there’s little doubt which team he’ll be on.

A star defenseman for the Rams last year, Ness has had as busy a summer as a hockey player can. In August, he was part of Team USA’s U18 team that played in the Ivan Hlinka tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, a tourney that also featured top NHL prospects Steven Stamkos of Canada, Victor Hedman of Sweden and Toni Rajala from Finland. Ness also spent some time with the vaunted NTDP squad, suiting up against teams from Colorado College and Air Force.

Finally, Ness was selected to play in the Upper Midwest Elite League’s National Invitational Tournament as part of one of two all-star teams. The fall league, which draws the best young players from Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin, iced two squads; one made up of high schoolers from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the other made up of everyone else. Being way up in Roseau, you can guess who Ness played for.

“It was fun, but it meant six-hour drives on the weekend,” Ness, 17, recalled. “Because most of the games were in the cities.”

The other competition included prep school powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s, alma mater of Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, as well as Sweden’s Malmo Redhawks junior team. Despite being limited by a bout of mononucleosis, Ness and his Minnesota Red team went undefeated and took the title, and the defenseman was singled out for his puck-moving and ability to control the play.

“I like to jump into the rush,” Ness said. “Scott Niedermayer – I really like his game.”

The University of Minnesota commit has already heard his name mentioned in NHL draft circles and doesn’t deny his dream to play at the highest level.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” Ness said, adding that hard work will put him in the best position. “If it happens, that’s awesome. I want to get drafted as high as possible.”

In the meantime, Ness has two things on his mind: Defending the Rams’ title and school. He plans on attending the University of Minnesota next year, which means completing his junior and senior years of schooling this year. Ness is taking eight courses at Roseau, then three-and-a-half more courses on-line.

Fortunately, Roseau is a small town and even though Ness begins his school day early, he doesn’t have a long journey in the morning or a treacherous bus ride.

“I live, like, 50 yards away from school,” he laughed. “Most of the guys either walk or drive to school here.”

Click HERE to read last week’s Year of the Ram story.

The Hockey News will be following the Roseau Rams high school hockey team every week, chronicling its journey on the road back to the state championship and providing an inside look at what its like to be a teenager on one of the most fabled varsity teams in America.

For more great stories and features like this, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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