Aaron Ness is ready for his close-up.
The standout defenseman who led the Roseau Rams to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the state championship has completed the last trial en route to the NHL Entry Draft, which takes place June 20-21 in Ottawa.
After a successful run with Team USA at the Under-18 Championship in Kazan, Russia, Ness put himself to work training for the NHL draft combine, a multi-day event in Toronto consisting of sit-down interviews with NHL teams and grueling physical fitness tests, which has famously left some prospects sick to their stomachs.
Because Ness will be attending the University of Minnesota next year, he was limited to a 48-hour window in which to participate in the combine, as per NCAA regulations.
That meant a very busy schedule.
The young blueliner arrived in Toronto on the Wednesday and almost immediately ripped off six interviews with NHL teams. Thursday proved to be even more hectic, as Ness chatted with 20 more teams.
“It was quite a long day,” he said. “From 8:05 a.m. to 6:05 p.m. I had ’em straight through.”
While the teams often use the interviews to see how prospects react to out-of-left-field questions, the scouts and management also quiz players on their strengths and weaknesses.
“The common theme was my size,” said the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Ness. “They wanted to know what I’m going to do to compete against guys who are 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 in the NHL. I told them I’ll use what I’ve got; my speed, stick skills and smarts.”
As for the dreaded fitness test, which Ness took early Friday morning, training for the exercises was key.
“Right when I got back from Russia, I just did it every day,” he noted. “I would do a half-hour on the bike just to get my legs.”
While Ness acquitted himself quite well at the fitness test, the two stationary bike tests are killers for everyone. The Wingate test involves pedaling as fast as possible for 30 seconds, while the VO2 Max goes on for much longer and consists of a ratcheting up of tension against the rider as it goes. So which was tougher?
“If we did them on different days, I’d say the Wingate,” Ness offered. “It’s like a knife in your legs. You’re sucking wind.”
With the testing over, Ness now waits for his moment when he will be called to the stage by an NHL franchise. He won’t be the first Roseau Ram to have the honor and he certainly won’t be the last.
Goaltender Mike Lee has already stated he wants to be the first Ram to tend net in the NHL and will prepare for the task by suiting up for the USHL’s Fargo Force next year. Power forward Nick Oliver is already committed to St. Cloud State once he completes high school and diminutive dynamo Adam Knochenmus will surely raise eyebrows as his career matures.
And so the Year of the Ram comes to a close. Many thanks to coach Scott Oliver and his staff, Tracy ‘Bobcat’ Ostby, Connie Koenig, Cary Olson, Kim Drown, Peggy Hedlund, the parents, the town of Roseau and of course, the Rams themselves.
The Hockey News has been following the Roseau Rams high school hockey team every week, chronicling its journey on the road back to the state championship and beyond and providing an inside look at what its like to be a teenager on one of the most fabled varsity teams in America.
Click HERE to read previous Year of the Ram stories.
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