"This was my goal coming into Junior A....and I couldn't be happier with my decision."
Those are the words of Josh Rieger, 20-year-old defenceman with the Power Dodge Estevan Bruins and the most recent recruit for the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
The third-year Bruins' blueliner made the call last Thursday, January 19th to the coaching staff at the NCAA Division One hockey program to inform them of his decision to commit to U.N.D. for the start of the 2017/18 season. Rieger made the announcement public on Monday morning via his Twitter account.
After a season-long process, preceded by years of hard work on the ice and in the classroom, Rieger was more than thrilled to sign the dotted line and join a highly-respected hockey program following his junior hockey career.
"I've been doing a lot of talking with my parents and we came to the decision that North Dakota would be the best fit for me," stated Rieger following Monday's practice with the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL). "Obviously it's a really well known hockey school, they've got a great program."
"When I got the offer two weeks ago, I put a lot of thought into it. And I couldn't be happier with my decision."
While the Regina-born blueliner had put in the hours during high school and with the Regina Pat Canadians in Midget AAA, and more of the same with the Bruins for the past two seasons, it was only at the start of the 2016/17 year that Rieger had actively started pursuing his college hockey options.
"At the beginning of the year, I put a portfolio together and sent it out to some schools. I hadn't really heard anything for a while then in mid-November, I started getting some phone calls from some schools," explains Rieger.
"U.N.D. came into the conversation and then they came down and watched a pair of games before Christmas. I had a few conversations with their coaches, then went down to Grand Forks just the other weekend (January 13-15) and spent the day with the team during their gameday. That was an unreal experience and words can't even explain how exciting it was being down there."
There was at least one other offer on the table from another school for Rieger, but the opportunity to join a storied hockey school like U.N.D. was too good to pass up.
Rieger's Head Coach and General Manager for the past three seasons has been Chris Lewgood, a Regina boy as well. After working closely with Josh through the process and helping him grow as a defenceman with the SJHL's Bruins, Lewgood was as proud as anyone about Rieger's commitment.
"If everybody put the work, thought and time into their craft that Josh does, the world would be a better place," expressed Lewgood on Monday morning. "This guy just does things the right way all the time. He doesn't take a shift off. He doesn't take a day off. And he's earned it."
Heading into Rieger's final season, Lewgood admits to feeling a little nervous. The coach preached patience and hard work to his defenceman, and in the end the best possible result was reached.
"It didn't come easy for him," adds Lewgood. "As a 20-year-old, you start to wonder and you can have your doubts. But he just kept working at it, and this year his game has went to another level and it's been recognized."
"He's probably very grateful for this opportunity as I imagine it's his number one choice to play for U.N.D. especially for a kid from Saskatchewan. And for Josh to get his opportunity there is no accident, it came from hard work and dedication to his game."
As one would imagine, especially for a humble and appreciative person like Rieger, the list of people to thank is far longer than he's able to go through. But it would follow the lines you'd expect.
"My biggest supporters have been my parents and my sister. Without their help and support, I wouldn't be where I am today," expressed Rieger. "Coach Lewgood, Coach Mulligan and Coach Miller have been a big help this year, pushing me to be better every night."
"I'd also like to thank my teammates of course. And my billets for the past three years, Mel and Bert Pierson."
In 2016/17, Rieger currently leads all Bruins' defencemen with 11 goals (team-leading 4 game-winning goals) and 33 points to go along with 94 penalty minutes in 39 games played. In his SJHL career over 157 games, 26 goals and 76 points along with 270 penalty minutes.
The University of North Dakota (U.N.D.) Fighting Hawks play out of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (N.C.H.C.) and compete in NCAA Division One hockey. The program has won eight National Championships in school history, including the most recent title in 2016 on April 9th.
U.N.D. is located in Grand Forks, approximately 530 kilometres from Estevan.