The first 10 games of Riese Gaber’s NCAA career have been nothing short of spectacular. Playing out of the Omaha, Nebraska hub-city ‘pod’ probably wasn’t a part of his dream, but suiting up for the University of North Dakota most definitely was. Scoring a goal in his first game? Not a problem for the former USHL star. Earning the NCHC Rookie of the Week? Easy peasy. Leading the nation in goals scored through 10 games? Child’s play.
Despite the daily rigors of isolation hotel life paired with collegiate-level hockey, the Gilbert Plains product has continued to thrive in the spotlight for the Fighting Hawks. Having just completed the first 10 games of the season, first-place UND (7-2-1) has since travelled back to Grand Forks where the team and staff will be able to enjoy a few days off following the grueling 10-game-in-19-day stretch.
“Well, we made it back to UND on Monday,” Gaber said of the successful three-week stay in Omaha. “The Canadians are just hanging out here at campus; we can’t really go home for the holidays, so were just hanging out together, enjoying our time and spending the holidays with each other. Physically, our bodies are pretty tired, obviously, but as a whole we feel pretty good, and have done all the right things while living in the pod.”
For Gaber, ‘the pod’ consisted solely of Omaha’s Baxter Arena and the Aloft Hotel. Nothing more, nothing less. But for a guy who likes consistency, it was exactly what the 21-year-old needed.
“It’s been really good actually, well, as good as it can be,” he laughed. “We have gone back-and-forth from the rink to that hotel so many times now, those places are all I really know in Nebraska. But I honestly really enjoyed the time there. We have had a really good setup in the bubble, and everything has been pretty fun. There has been our COVID-19 testing every week, so it’s been pretty busy with that side of things too. We had a good schedule though and spent a lot of time together. Obviously, we played a little hockey here and there, so you really can’t complain.”
Despite leading both his team and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in goals scored during the 10-game pod experience, Gaber still isn’t fully satisfied with his production thus far.
“The last game of the 10 here definitely helped cap things off nicely for me,” he reflected. “But before that last game, I really wasn’t extremely happy with myself or my production. Consistency has always been a big thing for me; I’m here to put pucks in the net and that’s super important for me. Just staying confident and working hard every game is critical. I’m just making sure I’m keeping my feet moving and working hard, and I know that the rest will come. I’ve had some success so far, but that really doesn’t mean anything with it being so early. There’s lot of hockey to be played; the real test starts now.”
Even though UND lost first-year blueliners Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven to the United States World Junior team and also battled a number of injuries, the former AAA Parkland Rangers forward was able to help pick up the slack, while enjoying the “once in a lifetime” experience.
“To me, this opportunity has been really cool, personally,” he said. “If I look at the big picture, this is my dream school. You see all of the guys who have came through this program here, and the guys that are going to follow those paths are the guys that I’m getting to play with. Guys like Jordan Kawaguchi and Shane Pinto are elite, both on and off the ice. They are elite people who do everything right. It’s pretty cool to play with them and watch what they do. There is a ton that I can learn from them. I’m just continuing to take everything in and enjoy the moment while I’m here. It’s important to remember why I’m here and that I’ve got to make the most of it.”
Although playing 10 games in 19 days will most likely never be done again within the NCHC, Gaber welcomed the opportunity with open arms and was able to roll with the punches as they came.
“It’s been different, obviously something none of us had experienced before,” he said. “I am just learning to adapt and be ready for whatever comes my way now. It was almost like a pro schedule, so it was great for learning that kind of thing. But through this pod our team has really taken it to a new level, just being ready for anything. That’s what you need to be in this conference, and the guys know it and that’s what they’ve done. The veterans have been leaders and have shown us new guys how to do it.”
Gaber and Co. will now have the next few days to enjoy the holiday season, before packing up and heading right back to Nebraska, where the NCHC picks up with the remainder of the season after successfully concluding the pod experience.
“After the Christmas break we are getting back to normal,” Gaber said. “We will be doing regular travel and everything like that. It just so happens that we are off to Omaha for our first few games back, but then they’ll come down here to Grand Forks and we’ll kind of get into normal travel. It’s safe to say that we are all pretty excited about that.”