NHL vs. U, part II: Back to the future

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 23, 2008 - 11:53 PM

Islanders take incoming Gopher Aaron Ness, rekindle memories of last year's in-season call-up of U's Kyle Okposo.

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Aaron Ness

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OTTAWA, ONTARIO - When the New York Islanders signed Kyle Okposo out of the University of Minnesota in the middle of the school year in December, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow justified the controversial move by criticizing the Gophers' program and specifically coach Don Lucia.

"Quite frankly, we weren't happy with the program there," Snow told the Star Tribune. "They have a responsibility to coach, to make Kyle a better player, and they were not doing that. ... We entrusted the coach there to turn him into a better hockey player, and it wasn't happening."

He added, "whether it was Kyle or another player, until things change in that program we'd probably make the same decision."

Well, in Saturday's second round of the NHL entry draft, the Islanders took Gophers incoming freshman and Minnesota's Mr. Hockey, Roseau's Aaron Ness, with the 40th pick.

But Snow changed his tune Saturday, saying, he blasted the Gophers because in a Star Tribune article the day before, "there were three people that took shots against our organization, against Kyle, and I wasn't going to sit idly by.

"Every situation is different. We're happy we got a good hockey player, and we support [Ness] getting his degree at the University of Minnesota."

Still, Ness said how long he stays at the U depends largely on the Islanders' wishes.

"Whenever they feel I'm ready and I feel I'm ready, lets get it going," Ness said. "I'll take this as it comes. As of now, I'm going to the U next year."

Reminded of Snow's thoughts of the Gophers and asked if that could affect his long-term stay at Minnesota, Ness said, "Yeah, I guess, maybe. I'll talk about it with them in the future."

By phone from the Twin Cities on Saturday, Lucia said he wasn't concerned the Islanders took Ness.

"They drafted a great kid, a great player, a world-class player," Lucia said. "I think Aaron has a great set of parents. They know and he knows there's growth to do as a player. It'll take time. So we look forward to having him at Minnesota.

"Whether it was the Islanders or anybody else, it was a smart pick. It's old news as far as I'm concerned."

Friday was a long day for Ness. He had to sit through the three-hour first round only not to hear his name.

"It was a little disappointing, just because of all the hype and stuff," Ness said. "But the bottom line is it's what you do after the draft. This is another step to hopefully getting there one day."

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