Riese Gaber to return to UND for senior season
The junior winger became the Fighting Hawks' first 20-goal scorer since 2016-17 this season.
GRAND FORKS — One of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's best players is coming back to UND for another year.
Riese Gaber, who scored 20 goals as a junior and earned second-team all-NCHC honors, says he will return to UND for his senior season rather than signing an pro contract.
"This place means everything to me," Gaber said. "I've been so fortunate to get three years here. To have a fourth, and the opportunity that stands ahead, is pretty exciting."
Gaber is an undrafted free agent who has drawn NHL scouts to watch him over the last few seasons. The Athletic listed Gaber as the No. 5 undrafted free agent in college hockey.
The 5-foot-8, 163-pound winger from Gilbert Plains, Man., wrestled with his decision on whether to sign or return to college.
"It was the toughest decision I've ever had to make," Gaber said. "One day, I would be leaning toward that I was going to leave. Then, an hour later, I'd be looking the other way. There were a lot of conversations had. I think I have more to give. As a team, everyone has a bad taste in their mouths from this year. It's something we can learn from and make an exciting year happen next year."
Gaber said he informed UND head coach Brad Berry of his decision on Tuesday afternoon.
"I met with Bubs," Gaber said. "I had a chat with him. He was thrilled. I told him I want to come back and be a part of this for my senior year. He was really happy. No one is more happy than my parents. They've supported me a lot throughout this."
Gaber has a pattern of being patient with his development and it's paid off for him.
He spent an extra year in the United States Hockey League with the Dubuque Fighting Saints and earned USHL Player of the Year honors.
That set him up for a quick start to his college career.
Gaber tallied 21 points as a freshman, 37 as a sophomore and 37 as a junior. Last season, he scored 20 goals, becoming the first UND player since Shane Gersich in 2016-17 to hit that mark.
Gaber said he hasn't set any personal goals yet for his senior season.
"As far as personal accolades go, I'm not worried about any of those," Gaber said. "I'll set some individual goals, but as of right now, making the national tournament and making a run at that ninth banner is first on my list."
Gaber's return gives UND a loaded forward group for next season.
Among the top contenders to play on the top two lines: NCHC rookie of the year Jackson Blake, Detroit Red Wings pick Dylan James, Philadelphia Flyers pick Owen McLaughlin, Boston Bruins pick Jake Schmaltz, Vancouver Canucks pick Jackson Kunz and USHL star Jayden Perron, who will be a freshman.
UND is still waiting for a decision from senior Judd Caulfield on whether he will turn pro or use his COVID-impacted year to come back for a fifth season. Caulfield is a Pittsburgh Penguins pick.
"Knowing the group we're going to have was definitely very appealing," Gaber said. "Obviously, with the amount of firepower we have, that's something that's very exciting."
During Senior Night, UND's final home game of the season, Gaber was emotional on the ice, prompting speculation that he was leaving.
"At that point in time, I thought that was going to be the case," Gaber said. "I've had so many different conversations. I went back and forth literally every day. But I have more to give."
UND will be re-making its blue line. It stands to have as many as seven new defensemen for next season. It also will have two new goaltenders.
But Gaber said there are high hopes for the group.
"Everyone should be excited for next year," Gaber said.