Celebrating A Former King: Gaber’s Wonderful Journey

Riese Gaber’s childhood was defined by a hockey stick in hand and skates on his feet.

Hailing from Gilbert Plains, he emerged as a hockey prodigy over two decades ago, now standing as one of the most celebrated athletes from his hometown. Everywhere he’s ventured, victory has followed, often marked by his exceptional performance.

His father, Mike, himself a skilled hockey player, left a legacy in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) with the Humboldt Broncos during the mid-80s, clinching a league championship in 1987, a dozen years before Riese’s birth.

Despite Mike’s background, he never imposed hockey on Riese. Instead, Riese’s passion for the game was self-driven from a tender age. Whether watching or playing, the rink held an irresistible allure for him, fueling his dedication to hockey.

“Hockey has always been the thing for me, I was brought into it at a very early age,” said Gaber. “We always had access to the rink growing up. I always looked forward to going to the rink and cheering on my favourite teams.”

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When it was time to step into the realm of elite competition, Gaber made his mark with the Parkland U15 Rangers during the 2013-14 season. Demonstrating his skill on the ice, he tallied an impressive 24 points in 32 regular-season games, followed by two assists in four playoff matchups. Their collective effort led the Rangers to clinch the Manitoba Rural U15 AAA championship that season.

The following year, Gaber made the jump up to the U18 ranks. It meant he would be going up against guys who were stronger, bigger, and more experienced than him. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Gaber that year. He played in 34 games, recording 11 points, and he learned first-hand that nothing was going to come easy. He needed to push himself and did he ever.

Following an intensive off-season packed with both on-ice and off-ice training, Gaber returned to the U18 Rangers program with newfound prowess. His dominance was undeniable, netting 22 goals in 44 games and accumulating a total of 61 points. Additionally, Riese seized the opportunity to make his debut in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) with the Dauphin Kings, a team he had long admired growing up in Gilbert Plains.

Spending countless weekends at Credit Union Place cheering on the Kings, Riese’s dream became a reality as he showcased his talent on the junior stage. Riese played in eight games that year with Dauphin, netting three points.

“That was a big turning point for my career, that’s where things kicked off, and really gave me the belief that I could advance to the next level,” said Gaber. “During my first year, I was a really small guy, and we had some really good players.”

The Rangers lost a few of their veteran players after Riese’s first year with the club and the rest was history.

“I saw an increased role and I just kind of ran with it and I give a lot of credit to Doug Hedley, he gave me every opportunity and stuck by me,” offered Gaber. “I had some pretty incredible teammates that year, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did without them.”

In the 2016-17 season, Riese made the transition to a full-time role with the Kings, swiftly establishing himself as a key contributor to the team’s efforts. Despite the challenges faced by the team, with a record of 17-36-5-2, Riese emerged as a standout performer, finishing fourth in team scoring with an impressive 32 points accumulated over 42 games. Despite the team’s struggles to find their rhythm, Riese’s consistent contributions underscored his value to the Kings’ lineup.

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Back with the Kings the following season, Gaber got off to an incredible start with 15 goals and 21 points in just 27 games. The Kings once again never found their groove that season as they won just 14 games, but Riese was not a part of all of it as he was dealt to the Steinbach Pistons at the trade deadline. The Pistons were all loaded up for a run at a championship and Gaber was one of the most significant pieces acquired.

The news was hard-hitting for Kings fans as they realized they wouldn’t see Riese don the team’s uniform anymore. For Riese himself, the memories of playing with Dauphin would forever hold a special place in his heart.

“Playing for the Kings was very special to me, I grew up going to a ton of their games,” offered Gaber. “My goal was to always play for the Kings and getting to go through that experience and that dream, it was really cool and a great way to begin my junior career.”

Now a member of the Pistons, Gaber tallied 11 goals and 27 points during the second half of the season for Steinbach as they finished 48-8-2-2 which saw them finish on top of the league standings by 17 points. No one touched Gaber and the Pistons in the playoffs as they swept Swan Valley, beat the Blues in six games, and won the league championship in six games over the Virden Oil Capitals.

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USHL & NCAA Journey:

2018 was a very special year for Riese. He won an MJHL title, an Anavet Cup as the Pistons beat Nipawin, and a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior A Challenge.

Selected by the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League in the third round, 40th overall, during their Entry Draft, Riese embarked on a new chapter in his hockey journey. Joining the Fighting Saints for the 2018-19 season, he wasted no time making an impact in one of the world’s premier junior leagues. Displaying his skill and determination, he tallied an impressive 50 points in 61 regular-season games, followed by two assists in six playoff matchups, further solidifying his reputation as a formidable force on the ice.

The 2019-20 season was one that Riese will never forget. After earning more ice time following an incredible rookie season in the USHL, Riese was in a class of his own regarding offensive production. He was a first-team USHL All-Star, he was named the league’s Forward of the Year, he led the league in goals with 34, and he was named the league’s Player of the Year.

“I knew I was set to have a big year in Dubuque for my second year with the team if I put in the work,” said Gaber. “I worked really hard that year and it paid off. It helped me head to UND with a ton of confidence.”

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All eyes were on Riese Gaber. Those eyes included the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. One of the most storied college programs was set to welcome Riese to campus in time for the 2020-21 season. Little did they know that Gaber would go on to become one of the greatest Fighting Hawks ever.

In his inaugural season with the Green & White, Gaber made an immediate impact, notching 21 points in 29 games and earning a well-deserved spot on the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s (NCHC) All-Rookie Team. Thriving within the ranks of the elite Fighting Hawks squad, Gaber clinched an NCHC championship and further distinguished himself by being named the conference tournament’s most valuable player.

Throughout his tenure at UND, Gaber showcased his talent and dedication, appearing in 142 games. His impressive stat line boasted 64 goals, 65 assists, and a career plus-23 rating. Serving as the team’s captain in his final stretch, Gaber left an indelible mark by accruing the highest point total of any player at UND in the past decade.

As Gaber now looks back at his time in Grand Forks, he truly believes that he has been living the dream for the past four years.

“It is the coolest place in the world, there is no place like the Ralph Engelstad in the world, we have the greatest fans in the world,” said Gaber. “You see them around town and go to school with them. I had to make a tough decision after my third year with the team and I just couldn’t get away from this place, I wanted to come back for one year. I got to live the dream for four years. It’s amazing that I can look back and have all these friendships and memories made along the way.”

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Charlotte Bound:

With his collegiate career now in the rear-view mirror, Gaber did not have to wait long to sign his first professional contract. Not long after UND was eliminated from the NCAA tournament in a loss against Michigan, the Gilbert Plains star inked his first contract with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.

The Checkers are just five years removed from winning the Calder Cup as the champions of the AHL and Gaber will join the team to begin his contract next season.

“I’m very excited about it, it was time to move on from UND,” ended Gaber. “I’m excited to get this next chapter in my career going. I already spent time in Charlotte so I have a pretty good feeling when it comes to what I can expect. I believe that I can make an impact at that level, so I can’t wait to get going.”

Gaber will return home after he graduates, and a big summer is ahead as he prepares to begin his professional career in a few short months.

“The big thing is staying disciplined with my routine and staying dialed in,” ended Gaber. “It’s about having that hungry attitude; I just want to get better. I want to go hard in the gym and push myself to the next level.”