Small town, Manitoba’s Riese Gaber has seen his first season of NCAA hockey for the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks nearly come full-circle. Beginning with the NCHC pod in Omaha, Nebraska – to which Gaber put up seven goals in 10 games helping his team to a 7-2-1 record – the 21-year-old from Gilbert Plains has gone on to finish the season in first place, take home the Penrose Cup, win the NCHC 2021 Frozen Face-off and be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
But you wouldn’t know it by talking to him.
“It means everything,” Gaber told Game On of his first year of experience with the Fighting Hawks. “Playing here at UND is incredible; I am cherishing every moment. The first year is almost done already. We are not finished yet, but it’s been going by fast. Being part of this team and being able to learn from the guys that are here has been cool and something I will never forget.”
Skating alongside some top-end talent, Gaber has been able to learn from his teammates, while also expanding upon his own experienced gained from his time in both the Manitoba Junior Hockey League with the Dauphin Kings and Steinbach Pistons, as well as his two years with the United States Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints.
“We have a lot of very high-end names on our team, guys that are going to be playing in the NHL in the near future,” Gaber predicted. “So it’s pretty cool that we get to learn from them and play alongside them. Just to be able to be on this team is very special.”
On Tuesday, March 16, the Fighting Hawks captured the program’s first National Collegiate Hockey Conference title. Once again leading the charge for No. 1 seed UND was its first-year forward from Manitoba.
Named as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, the former Parkland Rangers AAA star finished the three-game set with three goals and four points. His title game performance included two goals and an assist as he helped his University of North Dakota teammates to a strong come-from-behind 5-3 victory, while earning a place on the 2021 All-Tournament Team.
“It’s been quite the experience,” Gaber reflected. “Obviously, every game now matters an extreme amount. We started it all off with a good win over eighth seed Miami, and then moving on to Denver, we were lucky to tie it up late and get the win in overtime. I think that gave us a lot of confidence going into our game against St. Cloud. Obviously, we didn’t have the start that we wanted. But ending it the way we did, we always had belief in our room and came out in the third period and got the win.”
Not wanting to speak much of his own personal accomplishments, Gaber called the Most Outstanding Player award a blessing, before deflecting the praise to his many teammates and coaches.
“Getting that early goal was good for my confidence, and then we knew we had a job to get done in the third,” Gaber said of his first period marker. “I just found that next level and that extra gear, so I was just lucky to make some plays. Obviously, the building was just roaring and it was really cool to be in that atmosphere, especially on home ice. Being able to hold onto that win at the end was extremely cool.”
Gaber, there was never a doubt that his team would come back from down 2-1 entering the final frame. The Fighting Hawks certainly delivered, scoring four goals in the final period and taking the game 5-3.
“I think we always knew it was going to work out,” he reflected. “Just knowing what we were capable of was really critical. The mood in the room in between periods was still positive and I think we knew that we were going to come back. Obviously, we got it done.”
Currently boasting 11 goals and 20 points as an NCHC freshman, Gaber now has his full attention on the ultimate prize – a national championship for the University of North Dakota.
“We have just over a week here to get some practice in and then head down to Fargo for Regionals; we will find out who our first opponent will be on Sunday,” he said. “But we want to win a national championship. We have to win on out from here on and I think we are ready for the task. All the guys from last year, and even us newer guys know we have unfinished business. So checking this box off is a big step in achieving our next goal of the hopeful end result of winning a national championship. I can’t wait to get started.”