"It doesn't really feel real yet"; Roseau's Ness gets chance to live out Olympic dreams
Ness heads to Beijing to play for the United States in the Winter Olympics next month.
There were very few things Aaron Ness had left on his hockey bucket list to accomplish. Mr. Hockey out of Roseau, a three-year player at the University of Minnesota, drafted into the NHL, and a long pro career.
One goal, however, remained on the list.
"It’s the Olympics. It’s the biggest stage," Ness said.
Ness, who plays for the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey league, knew it was a dream that was likely going to be hard to turn into a reality.
"I’ve been playing for a long time and been in the American League for a while now," he said. "You start to, I don’t want to say lose hope, you just don’t think it’ll happen or could happen."
In order for the long-time AHL skater to have a chance, he knew he'd have to catch a break.
"Everything kind of has to fall into place," Ness said.
As it turned out, things did fall into place. They started to in December, when the NHL announced its players would not be allowed to travel to Beijing and skate in the Olympics.
"You start to think, 'I might have an opportunity here and that maybe this could happen,'" Ness said.
Sure enough, opportunity came knocking.
"I got a call from USA Hockey, they said 'Do you want to play in the Olympics?' And I said, ‘Yeah when do we leave,'" Ness remembered.
He wasn't sure why they'd chosen him, and he didn't care either.
"It was one of these things where if they ask me to play in the Olympics, I didn’t ask any questions," Ness joked. "I don’t care who else is going to be there, I’m on board, I’m ready to go."
He didn't look at the call as a chance to prove people wrong or another chance to show what he could do on the ice. Simply put, it was the opportunity to live out a once in a lifetime chance.
"I've done a lot in my career, a lot of great things," Ness said. "I still believe I can play in the NHL. For me, it's about getting with that group and everything we can to win a gold medal."
At the age of 31, Ness will be looked at as the veteran of the group too.
"I got old, it happened fast," Ness said.
Over the days that have followed his selection to the team, Ness has gotten messages from too many people to count.
"I don’t think it really sunk in for a lot of people until a day or two after when it’s like, ‘You’re actually going to the Olympics,’" he said. "It's really cool to have so many people backing you."
He leaves for Beijing at the end of the month.
Until the plane takes off, Ness knows time is going slow down a little more. He's savoring those longer days, knowing his joining a profound list of players who have worn the U.S.A sweater. That includes another Roseau native, Neal Broten, who was part of the "Miracle on Ice" U.S. hockey team that won a gold medal in 1980.
He looked up to players like Broten growing up. Now, it's Ness who will be the one that young Roseau hockey fans aspire to be when they grow up.
"Everything kind of has to work out perfectly like it did here," Ness said. "I don’t know if I’d believe, and I still don’t know if I do or if I will until I put my skates on and head onto the ice in Beijing."