Reese Laubach had never ice skated before his dad took him to his first hockey game.

That was irrelevant, though. After attending one San Jose Sharks game, Laubach was hooked.

“I was maybe three or four when my dad took me to a Sharks game and I fell in love with it,” said Laubach, now 17. “After that, I wanted to play. I told my dad ‘sign me up for hockey.’ I didn’t want to play baseball or soccer or anything else.”

Weeks later, he was on skates for the first time. Two years later, he was on his first organized ice hockey team in San Jose, his hometown.

“I just continued to progress from there,” Laubach said.

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Laubach’s progression led him to Northstar Christian Academy in Alexandria, Minn., this winter. And two weeks ago, it led to the 5-foot-9, 155-pound center accepting an offer to play college hockey at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Laubach, who is currently a high school junior, could arrive at MSU in 2022-23 at the earliest.

“I started talking to some schools last fall,” said Laubach, who officially announced his commitment to the Mavericks on Jan. 26. “Back in October or the beginning of November I heard from Minnesota State for the first time. That was a dream come true. It’s a top-five hockey program, a hockey school. it was pretty amazing to hear from them. I was pumped.

“They showed a lot of interest in me. The way they talked to me, it felt like a good match, a good fit. The coaches there are all people I can thrive under and that’s really why I decided to go there.”

Laubach played in the San Jose Jr. Sharks program for nearly a decade. He helped guide the team to the USA Hockey U15 Tier I national championships in 2018-19, and he scored 86 goals over his final three seasons with the Jr. Sharks.

“It was awesome; I loved it,” he said of playing youth hockey in California. “I played (with the Jr. Sharks) from the time I was 7 until I was 16 and everything I learned in hockey and know about it came from there. I had great coaches, the competition was really good. I loved it in San Jose, playing with all those guys I grew up with.”

A silver lining amid the pandemic

Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a good chance Laubach would be home in San Jose, playing one more season with those friends and teammates.

Back in January of 2020, two months pre-pandemic, Laubach’s father received a call from Alexandria, Minnesota. It was John Olver, the head coach of the U18 Prep team at Northstar Christian Academy, asking Laubach to consider joining the Knights’ program for the 2020-21 season.

That phone call opened a dialogue that continued for nearly three months. Laubach had to weigh his options while the coronavirus outbreak spreading rapidly and shutting down businesses and schools across the country.

It wasn’t an easy decision, choosing between the Jr. Sharks program in which he grew up, or moving to hockey-heavy Minnesota, but Laubach eventually declined the offer to play at Northstar.

“We officially gave (Olver) a ‘no’ last March,” Laubach said. “I was planning to stay home one more year in San Jose. I wanted to be loyal to my program and finish with my buddies there.”

But with the coronavirus spread rapidly — hitting parts of California particularly badly — the Jr. Sharks program “eventually kind of shut down” for the time being, Laubach said.

Meanwhile, Olver hadn’t given up on the idea of Laubach playing for him at Northstar.

Laubach was in Waterloo, Iowa, last summer, competing at the main camp of the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks, when he received another phone call from Olver. A player had left the Knights’ U18 team, leaving an open spot for Laubach if he wanted it.

As soon as the Black Hawks’ camp ended, Laubach and his dad hopped in their car and made the 330-mile drive to Alexandria.

“The second we got there I knew it was the place to be,” Laubach said.

Excelling in a new setting

Laubach has fit right in; he’s the team’s second-leading scorer this season, with 13 goals and 32 points. And the California-born hockey addict has as much as ice time as he craves at Northstar, where players spend close to 11 hours a day at the rink, at least four days a week, he said.

“I love it here,” he said. “We have a long day, but we love it. We’re at the rink Tuesday through Friday from 6:55 a.m. until about 5:30 p.m. It starts with chapel, my favorite part of the day. We skate, have a morning skill session and a 90-minute practice at the end of the day.

“We have four hours of academics and lots of time to finish our school work. We need to do that work or we don’t play. There’s great accountability here.”

That maturity and life lessons learned at Northstar are what attracted Minnesota State to Laubach as much as his ability on the ice. He said they like his 200-foot game; his play is just as strong in the defensive zone as in the attacking zone.

“Center is where I feel most comfortable and where I feel like I belong,” he said. “Being a center, I can play in those 3-on-3 (battles) down low in the defensive zone. I feel like I’m a good offensive player and pretty good defensively.”

The Minnesota State connection with Northstar Academy helped Laubach’s decision-making process, too. Former Mavericks Rylan Galiardi and Tim Jackman are both coaches in the Knights’ program.

“That was a big part of the decision, getting feedback from coach Jackman and coach Rylan,” Laubach said . “Everything I heard was great. The campus is pretty cool; it’s cool how everything there is so close together and I feel like it could be a really fun college atmosphere.”

Galiardi has high praise for the young center who recently committed to his alma mater.

"We are excited and proud for Reese on his commitment to play at a great Division I hockey program," Galiardi said in a statement. "Reese has the hockey sense, skill and skating to be an impactful college hockey player. However, it is his character and intangibles that make Reese an exceptional teammate and leader."