by Paul Ryan | AHL On The Beat Archive
Not much has changed this year for Aaron Ness. The 5-foot-10 defenseman started his fourth full season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in September and approached it just the same as any other year.
And yet, there is something visibly different about Ness. Not in his demeanor, not in his play, but in the way he looks.
It’s a 3-by-5 inch letter stamped on the front of his jersey. A ‘C,’ signifying he is the captain, the leader of the players – and yet, he doesn’t see it that way.
“I think leadership comes from a group,” Ness said. “I think the best leaders are guys that can lean on other guys. You go on down the line and there are a lot of great leaders in our room. It’s a team effort.”
Ness was appointed captain of the Sound Tigers back on October 7, four days prior to the start of the season. For the coaching staff, it was an easy decision.
“Aaron Ness is a first-class citizen, that’s first and foremost,” Sound Tigers Head Coach Brent Thompson said. “The job he’s done with our team as far as being a captain and being a leader day-to-day is outstanding. He’s a true professional. To me, you couldn’t ask for a better captain and a better person.”
The Sound Tigers are extremely young this year, with five rookies on the defense alone. Three of those rookies are just 20 years old, including Islanders 2013 first-round draft Ryan Pulock. The pair have been defensive partners for the majority of the young season.
“He’s always helping me, whether it’s by talking or with little plays,” Pulock said. “He’s just a good guy. He gets along with everyone. He leads by example but steps up as a voice in the room as well. He’s helped me out in my development and helped me get comfortable out there. He’s been around and knows what it takes.”
There are also veteran presences in the room, with forward Colin McDonald and goaltender David Leggio turning 30 earlier this year. The 24-year-old Ness doesn’t find it difficult captaining the more experienced players – in fact, he embraces it.
“They’re a couple of great guys and I can lean on them too,” Ness says. “That’s the beauty of it. We’re all leaning on each other whether there’s a ‘C’ on my jersey or not. I think they’re great leaders too and they bring that every day.”
Ness has always been one of those leaders, ever since his days of youth hockey. Back in his hometown of Roseau, Minn., Ness captained his squirt and pee wee teams. He served as an assistant captain for his high school team, the Roseau Rams, and his college team, the University of Minnesota.
When you ask coaches and players around the locker room, their answers on Ness all echo each other. It’s not necessarily what he says that makes him a great leader, but what he does and how he carries himself.
“His practice habits are perfect,” Thompson said. “He approaches every day the same.”
“He’s not a big talker, but it’s the way he comes to the rink every day, gets prepared for practice and gets prepared for a game,” teammate Brett Gallant said. “He practices like he plays. He gives it 100 percent every time he goes out there.”
Ness is the quiet leader, who will “speak his mind” when he has to, but generally lets his play lead itself. His goals this year are simple, and much like his leadership, are team-driven.
“The Calder Cup is why we’re here,” Ness said. “But at this point in the season, we just take it day-by-day, game-by-game. It’s so tight right now and there are so many good teams that every game you step on the ice, you just want those two points with the big goals in the back of your head.”
Yet again, his play has not changed with the ‘C’ on his jersey. Quite contrary.
“I take pride in my game on and off the ice, whether there’s a ‘C’ or not,” Ness concludes. “I strive to be the best I can be every day and that’s why I’ve gotten to this point in my career. It’s obviously a great honor to do this professionally.”