DENVER-Aaron Ness walked into the visitor's locker room at the Pepsi Center and sat down in the stall in the corner.
He put his head in his hands and tried to catch his breath.
But in the Colorado altitude, it doesn't happen so easily.
Ness had just finished a grueling workout after morning skate with the Washington Capitals-a routine for players who aren't going to suit up later that night.
It helps players get in a good workout and remain in game shape for when they next get the call.
For Ness, those calls have been coming frequently this season.
The 27-year-old former Roseau High School star, who helped the Rams to the 2007 Minnesota Class AA state title, is in the midst of his best professional season yet.
Ness has remained with the Capitals all season to this point and is on pace to set a personal best for most NHL games in one season.
The left-handed shooting defenseman has been in the lineup for eight games this season, on pace to play roughly 30.
"It's been pretty good so far," Ness said. "It's been a lot of fun. It's exciting to be here and it's going pretty well. I'm trying to use my assets. My skating has always been big for me. When I get in the lineup, I'm trying to be consistent and help the team win."
Ness has an assist this season and is hoping to stay up with the Washington Capitals for the entire year.
"For me, I think I have to continue to be reliable, continue to make a good first pass out of the zone, defend hard and jump up in the play as much as possible and create offensively," Ness said.
Ness has now been with Washington's organization for three seasons.
He spent his first four professional seasons with the New York Islanders organization, splitting time between the Isles and their top American Hockey League affiliate. Ness was selected to the AHL All-Star Game in 2014-15.
The following season, he signed with the Capitals. Now in his third year with Washington's organization, Ness is starting to feel more comfortable.
"It's a good group of guys and a great coaching staff," Ness said. "It's my third year here, so I'm kind of getting to know the guys better. It's a really great group and they are fun to be around. Your first year, you're maybe a little tentative and you don't get to know the guys that well. Everyone has really opened up."
On the ice, it has made a difference, too.
"You start to learn the system," Ness said. "You don't have to think about it anymore. You just react."
Ness spends his summers in the Twin Cities, where he played college hockey at the University of Minnesota. But he still returns to Roseau, where his parents reside.
"It's my favorite place on Earth," Ness said.
While Ness is suiting up alongside some of the world's best players in Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, he still fondly recalls the days of playing alongside his closest friends at Roseau High School and winning a state title.
"It's a special bond," Ness said. "That was awesome. It was one of my favorite hockey memories and it always will be. It's a great group we had. I think we'll be going back and forth with each other for a long, long time."