Rhett Gardner of the Moose Jaw Generals was named player of the game for Team West for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge on Wednesday evening against Team Pacific. Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Most young hockey players growing up in Moose Jaw dream of playing in the WHL and the NHL.
Rhett Gardner’s dream was always a little different.
This week the 16-year-old got a closer to making that dream a reality when he verbally committed to play hockey at the University of North Dakota.
“I dreamed of playing for North Dakota and I actually couldn’t believe it when it came true,” said Gardner.
“This is definitely the place I want to be. It’s a good fit for me as a hockey player and a person. They have a great staff there. I think developmentally it’s good for me to get a couple of more years to develop and then go play there.”
UND is the closest NCAA hockey program and Gardner got familiar with the school and its facilities at a young age.
“I went to some camps down there in the summer when I was in novice and atom. I went down for a couple of games when I was a kid too. The whole experience blew me away,” said Gardner who saw UND play while they featured future NHLers Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie.
“It’s incredible how into it the fans are. It’s like a college football game in a hockey rink.”
Gardner, a Grade 11 student at Vanier, won’t be able to sign a national letter of intent until his senior year of high school at the earliest. A verbal commitment is non-binding — both by the athlete and the school — but the six-foot-two left winger is happy to finally announce his intentions and set a path for his future.
“It’s been a pretty long process, but it’s definitely worth it. I’m excited to finally finalize it,” said Gardner.
The Generals captain has 21 goals and 40 points in 25 games in the Sask. Midget AAA Hockey League.
He was selected in the second round, 41st overall, by Spokane in the 2011 WHL bantam draft. His WHL rights were traded along with Marek Kalus and third and fifth round draft picks to the Brandon Wheat Kings for Alessio Bertaggia at the WHL trade deadline on Jan. 10.
Gardner had interest from a number of schools — and talked to Bemidji State, Cornell and the University of Minnesota-Duluth — but was always hoping to go to Grand Forks.
The Generals host the Saskatoon Contacts Thursday (7 p.m., Mosaic Place). The two teams are tied for second place in the SMAAAHL standings.