When a Roseau boys' hockey player pulls on a green and white Rams sweater there's virtually a bull's-eye on his back.
Along with expectations to contend for the Class 2A state championship - every year.
The top-ranked, unbeaten and defending 2A champions bring possibly the richest high school hockey tradition to Brainerd on Saturday for a Section 8-2A matinee against the Warriors.
Roseau plays at St. Cloud Tech Friday night before taking on the Warriors.
"I know all of our opponents circle this date on their calendar when they get a chance to play Roseau," Rams coach Scott Oliver said. "It will be another test for us, how mentally tough we are, to play two section opponents in less than 24 hours, on the road."
The Rams, who have never lost in five games against Brainerd, have made 31 trips to state, won seven championships and played in 12 state title games. Oliver believes there's always a target on Roseau, even more so this year.
Warriors vs. Roseau
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Brainerd Area Civic Center
Records: Roseau 19-0-0, Brd 14-5-1
"I don't know if we're No. 1 in the state to be honest with you," he said. "I guess we'll find that out at the end of the year.
"I think the target is a little bigger and a little more defined but I like how this year's team has handled it."
Warriors coach Ty Eigner considers it a tremendous opportunity for his team to play Roseau. He anticipates a standing-room only crowd, including countless college coaches and NHL scouts.
"We've played No. 1-ranked teams before," Eigner said, "but I don't know that a Brainerd hockey team has ever played an undefeated, defending state champion that's ranked No. 1.
"I think it's similar to playing Cretin-Derham Hall in baseball or football. These opportunities don't happen very often. This is what our sport is all about, these kinds of opportunities."
Fans will have an opportunity to watch Roseau's Aaron Ness, considered by many to be the state's top player. The junior defenseman and Mr. Hockey candidate, who's headed to the University of Minnesota, has 18 goals (10 on the power play) and 49 total points.
"Ness might be the best player to come out of the state in the last decade or so," Eigner said. "He's an outstanding high school player. He controls play, does a ton of stuff, offensively and defensively."
Other Rams standouts include senior forwards Ben Nelson (13-30-43) and Dusty Moser (14-20-34), both of whom will play junior hockey next year; junior forward Tyler Landman (12-19-31); junior forward Nick Oliver (13-18-31); and junior goalie Mike Lee (1.00 goals-against average, .944 save percentage). Nick Oliver and Lee have verbally committed to St. Cloud State.
"Their top group is as good as anybody's," Eigner said. "They've got a lot of really good hockey players, that's the reality. Those kids know how to play and play well together. They've got a ton of hockey sense."
The Warriors will counter with a top-flight first line of senior Joe Frazer (22-27-49) at center, Julius Tamasy (16-16-32) at left wing and Bronson Shepherd (14-22-36) at right wing.
Senior defenseman Drew Olson (15-15-30) is one of the state's top defenders and hardest shooters. Goalie Kyle Peterson has been solid, with a 3.04 GAA and 88.5 save percentage.
Frazer and Olson will be teammates in juniors in Nebraska next season. In 2009-10, Frazer will play for Nebraska-Omaha, Olson for Minnesota-Duluth.
"It's a big game, not just for me, but for our whole team," Olson said. "We're real pumped to play the No. 1 team in the state. Everyone's gunning for them. I think it will be a pretty good game for us. Hopefully, we can give them a run for their money."
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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