Riese Gaber scored 11 times last year in his first year of Division 1 college hockey with the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, a perennial powerhouse every season.
His great rookie season saw the Gilbert Plains native earn some prestigious accolades as he was named to the NCHC’s All-Rookie Team and he was a driving force in the Fighting Hawks winning the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. He was also named the tournament’s most valuable player and now, Gaber is set for his second season in North Dakota.
The team played a preseason game last weekend against Bemidji State and they came out on top 2-1. Gaber — who is a former player of the year in the United States Hockey League — scored the team’s first goal of the season. His marker came early in the second period on the powerplay.
“That felt great, I think I’m going to take another step this season, that’s the goal,” said Gaber. “I’m really looking forward to continuing with the season here and doing what I do best.”
The game marked the first time that 100 percent capacity could pack the Ralph Engelstad Arena since the beginning of the pandemic and fans certainly embraced that opportunity as the final attendance was 11,812. Just short of 12,000 people packed the arena to watch preseason hockey and getting to play in front of that many fans is something that Gaber won’t forget.
“Electric, I think that’s the best way to explain it,” offered Gaber. “I took it all in and it’s definitely something that I will never forget.”
Now, it’s time to get down to business for real for Gaber and the rest of the Fighting Hawks. The team begins their regular season on home ice with a pair of games against unranked Niagara. UND has won all seven of the previous meetings between the two teams, including in the 2015-16 season, the last time the Purple Eagles made a visit to Grand Forks. UND outscored Niagara, 12-1, in that series.
The two programs have also met twice in the NCAA Tournament, including in 2000 when UND won a national championship. 13 years later, the Fighting Hawks beat the Purple Eagles at the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
While the Purple Eagles aren’t ranked and UND has dominated them in the past, Gaber says they aren’t taking them lightly as the curtain officially opens on a new season.
“We have extremely high expectations this season,” said Gaber. “Obviously with the culture here in North Dakota, we always expect to win and that’s what we’re brought here to do. We know it’s going to be a tough first matchup and we’re just excited to get going.”