Matt Kiersted emerged as one of the best defensemen in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference as a junior.

He quarterbacked UND's top power-play unit and finished third among blue liners in the league with 29 points. He had the highest point-per game total of any UND defenseman since Chay Genoway in 2011.

With that, Kiersted attracted NHL scouts and front-office members to watch him play throughout the season, including at least one general manager. By the end, several NHL teams were bidding to land the Elk River, Minn., product as an undrafted free agent.

But after weighing his options, Kiersted decided all of that can wait.

Kiersted has informed the UND coaching staff that he is going to return for his senior season, a huge development for the Fighting Hawks, who have already received a similar pledge from Hobey Baker Award finalist Jordan Kawaguchi.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"It wasn't an easy decision," Kiersted said. "Once you get to talking to those teams, it all becomes real. I never really pictured myself in a spot like this. I had to follow my heart. And my heart was here at UND.

"I didn't want to leave, especially with the way the season ended and how good of a team we had and what we could have done. There was no closure. We did something really special this season. But next season, we're here to do more. We want that national championship banner. The Penrose was special. It was a really great accomplishment. We checked one of the boxes. But the big one is the national championship. Every year, that's what you strive for. And I think we'll have a really good chance next year."

UND finished 26-5-4 and held the No. 1 spot in the Pairwise Rankings when the season was abruptly canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak just days before the playoffs were set to begin.

"This year was probably the most fun I've had in my career so far," Kiersted said. "It was an absolute blast. Going to practice every day at 7 a.m., it was early, but you want to be there every day. It was a really fun group and the success we had made it even better.

"There's just a feeling of unfinished business. It doesn't sit well with me or anybody here. . . even the whole town knows. Coming back next year, hopefully we'll take care of that, get to the Frozen Four and play for a national championship."

Kiersted, a 6-foot, 186-pound left-hander, will anchor UND's defensive core next year and figures to play a big role in all situations.

Kiersted played the top of UND's first power-play unit last season and finished with 15 points on the man advantage. He will play a big role on the penalty kill and top minutes at five-on-five as well.

"I think there are always areas to develop in," Kiersted said. "Me personally, I want to get stronger. I want to put on a few more pounds this summer. I also want to work on my skating and moving across the zone on the blue line."

Kiersted, who wore an 'A' as an alternate captain as a junior, said there were many reasons for his breakout junior season.

"I think I had a better year just because of the fun I was having and how much you want to go to the rink and how much you see other guys working hard and how they want everything that you want," Kiersted said. "It was a great thing we had this year."

Kiersted said he doesn't think this team will get complacent after a good 2019-20 season. He said they will stay motivated.

"I think that will be easy, just the way everything went down at the end of the year," he said. "We worked so hard all year and we don't get a chance to play for a national championship. That doesn't sit well with anyone. We're going to do the same thing next year and set ourselves up for a postseason run. We'll see where we can go."

Other UND offseason decisions