HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears made their biggest splash-to-date in free agency by signing a familiar face on the blue line in Aaron Ness. The 32-year-old skated in 239 games for the organization from 2015-2019, including a season where he led the American Hockey League in scoring among blueliners. Ness tallied 128 points (20 goals, 108 assists) during his time with the Bears and helped the team to the Calder Cup Finals during his first year in Hershey in 2016, with 12 assists in 21 Calder Cup playoff games.
Ness led the AHL in scoring among defenders during his last season with Hershey in 2018-19, tallying 55 points (five goals, 50 assists), and was named to the league’s second all-star team. After departing Hershey, the defender moved around a bit, spending the 2019-20 season with the Arizona Coyotes organization, where he skated in 24 NHL contests and 17 AHL games in Tucson. He stayed with the Coyotes mostly on the taxi squad during the 2020-21 season before skating for the Providence Bruins a year ago during the campaign where he would represent the United States in the Olympics in Beijing.
The signing fills a significant void on the Bears’ blue line in addition to bringing back a familiar face. The team may well be without the services of veteran defender Cody Franson after his contract expired, and with Alex Alexeyev injured and Tobias Geisser leaving the organization, it leaves space for a skilled veteran with leadership qualities that Ness has in spades. Although Ness only skated one season under Spencer Carbery and Scott Allen, he knows Hershey very well after wearing the alternate captaincy that season. He could be the next captain in the wake of Matt Moulson retiring to become a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Familiarity could be good for Ness, who tallied 19 points in 55 games with the Bruins last season. He also had one helper in two playoff games as Providence made an earlier postseason exit than anticipated. Although it’s hard to expect Ness to put up 50 assists again simply because he is returning to Hershey, the reunion may work wonders for him as the 2018-19 season saw him post a career-best plus-24 mark. Ness is a stabilizing force on the blue line, and his ability to play any situation will desperately help the Bears as the team seeks to improve its ailing power-play from a year ago, a position he quarterbacked for so many years in his previous stint.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Bears won a playoff series in three of four years where Ness patrolled the blue line, and it was a mutually beneficial arrangement to have him in the Chocolate and White as the team seeks to be competing for a Calder Cup when the puck drops this fall.
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