Gaber, Pinto duo heads No. 1 North Dakota to season opening win over Miami (Ohio)
After almost two months of postponement, the Hawks took the ice in their home white uniforms against Miami (Ohio) to kick off the 2020-21 season...500 miles south of Ralph Engelstad Arena at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
It's not where the Hawks thought their season would start, but the adjustment to the Omaha bubble didn't phase the No. 1 ranked team in the country as North Dakota (1-0) opened up its season with a win over Miami (Ohio) (0-1), 2-0. Outside of the win, the team expressed excitement to just have the opportunity to play again.
"It's great to be playing again and it's great to be here in Omaha," North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said. "We want to thank Omaha for hosting and the NCHC for putting this together. Without that, we wouldn't have a chance to start our season. We're looking forward to the rest of our time here."
In returning to the ice, it was one of the newcomers who stood out for North Dakota throughout the night and would eventually capitalize for his first points as a Hawk. Freshman forward Riese Gaber, who stood out in the USHL winning Player of the Year and Forward of the Year accolades with Dubuque, would convert in the early third period for the Hawks' second score of the game.
Gaber would hit the post and have two breakaway opportunities before converting off a pass from sophomore Shane Pinto to wrist off the crossbar and in. Gaber would lead North Dakota in shots with six in his first game.
"I was hoping to have a few earlier on, but I knew I was playing well," Gaber said. "I had a feeling it was going to come and I just had to keep working. I got a good pass from Shane and it felt good to pop that first one."
The freshman also saw time on the power play, filling in the center spot in the unit. While a rookie at North Dakota, Berry said that his [Gaber's] performance in the USHL showed that he is a strong playmaker and can fit into the Hawks' special teams systems.
"He came in here as a heralded player," Berry said. "He showed in the USHL that he is a guy that can make plays, and that showed tonight. I thought he and Shane Pinto had a lot of chemistry tonight. It's something that nice to have in the lineup when you lose players and you have young guys that can sustain the offensive side of the game."
While Gaber and Pinto haven't played in a game setting before Wednesday, three months of practice have allowed the duo to create a gel, offering a strong offensive connection at even strength and on the power play. Mixing in senior forward Jordan Kawaguch into the equation, the Hawks saw a line that got UND a goal "when they really needed one" according to Berry.
Gaber wasn't the only freshman to get playing time as four other Hawks: Cooper Moore, Griffin Ness, Tyler Kleven, and Jake Sanderson all saw time tonight. Berry said the freshman adds the UND's depth, which could benefit them down the road. Berry also complimented Kleven's defensive performance on the night.
"Tyler Kleven is a guy that probably didn't get a lot of accolades after the freshman class that came in here, but brings a working like an attitude into the gym and practice," Berry said. "I watched him and Jake Sanderson carefully, and I thought both of those guys did outstanding."
While the younger core had a strong debut, the veterans had a strong showing as well. Pinto would assist on both goals and senior defenseman Matt Kiersted would net UND's first goal off a slapshot from the top of the circles in the mid-second period. Junior goaltender Adam Scheel would also pick up his first win and shutout of the season, making 19 saves.
At the other end of the ice, RedHawks goaltender Ben Kraws played a major role in keeping his team within striking distance. He would make 37 saves on the night, shutting out the Hawks in the first period on 18 shots. Kraws also shut down UND on every breakway opportunity they had on the night.
North Dakota heads into the upcoming weekend facing No. 4 Denver on Friday No. 17 Western Michigan on Sunday. The Pioneers opened up bubble play against No. 3 Minnesota Duluth and the Broncos fell to St. Cloud State 4-3 on Tuesday in their season opener.