Minnesota and Kazan, Russia are about as geographically far apart as you can get in the world, but when Roseau Rams defenseman Aaron Ness got the call from Team USA, it was a no-brainer he would be getting on that plane.
Ness and London Knights center Philip McRae joined the vaunted U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 squad to play at the World U-18 championship, which ended last week with the Americans snatching the bronze from Sweden.
“I had been talking to (team officials) all year,” said Ness, who played a few games for the team last year. “After the state championship, they asked me if I wanted to go.”
Ness had played internationally before for Team USA, traveling to Slovakia last year for a tournament, but Kazan, which is approximately eight hours southeast of Moscow, was an adult dose.
“It was different,” Ness said.
When asked if any of it reminded him of home in small town Minnesota, he replied, “Maybe out in the woods a bit, but not the city.”
And as often is the case, one of the x-factors of traveling abroad is the food.
“They tried to Americanize a lot of stuff for us, but we would have a lot of pasta,” Ness noted. “Some of the other stuff is kind of funky.”
Hygiene was another issue to deal with.
“We couldn’t drink the water,” Ness said. “We had to bring bottled water.”
And while the off-ice aspect was an adventure, the on-ice work was very efficient.
Joining a team that had played together for the entire season, Ness fit in seamlessly, racking up six points and a plus-five rating in seven games, which was good for second among USA defensemen behind David Warsofsky, who had seven points.
“I was pretty pleased,” Ness said of his performance. “And the bronze medal was cool to experience.”
Winning bronze in this tournament was no easy task, either. In beating Sweden 6-3 in their final match, the Americans bested a team featuring some of the top young talents in the world, including Mattias Tedenby, a potential top-10 draft pick this summer, and Victor Hedman, who has usurped John Tavares as the No. 1 pick next year in some hockey minds.
“He’s a big, strong, tough guy,” said Ness of the 6-foot-6 Hedman. “I saw him even jump into the rush a couple times.”
Ness also pointed to defenseman Erik Karlsson and goalie Jakub Markstrom as other standouts for the Tre Kronor.
As for the Russians, who knocked the Yanks into the bronze game before being shuttered 8-0 by Canada in the gold medal game, Ness saw them as the toughest team he faced.
“Definitely the Russians,” he said. “They play a team-style game, lots of traps, lots of plays.”
Nikita Filatov and Kirill Petrov, both of whom are up for the draft alongside Ness this summer, caught the Roseau defenseman’s eye as two of the best in red.
So with a bronze medal in his possession, Ness returned to Roseau with a great experience in the books. Speaking of books, aren’t final exams coming up?
“My teachers were real good about it,” laughed Ness, who is taking a double course load this year so he can attend the University of Minnesota next season and did homework while he was away. “I’m still kind of catching up, but it’s not as bad as I thought, let’s put it that way.”
The Hockey News will be following the Roseau Rams high school hockey team every week (every second week during the off-season), 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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