GRAND FORKS -- Gabe Bast and Tyson Jost were having a conversation last year about how long it had been since they had seen each other.

The two became close friends when they were junior hockey teammates with the Penticton (B.C.) Vees in 2015-16. Although they didn't live together, Jost's billet family, Dale and Wendy Woods, practically considered Bast part of the crew because he was over so often hanging out with Jost and Dante Fabbro, their other resident.

They went their separate ways the next year: Bast stayed at Penticton for one more year, while Jost (University of North Dakota) and Fabbro (Boston University) went to college.

The following season, Bast came to UND, but Jost left for the Colorado Avalanche.

They decided they would get the crew back together this summer to re-connect, live and train with each other.

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They picked Vancouver as the destination.

For Bast, hanging out with Jost meant he had to adapt to a strict training regimen and follow Jost's intensely selective diet.

Every morning, they were in the weight room around 8 a.m. Come the afternoon, they were working with a movement coach, who stressed core stability, hip strength and all-around movements to improve athleticism. If they weren't working with their movement coach, they were on the ice.

Their meals were plain.

Ask Bast about what he ate over the summer and he'll roll his eyes before even giving an answer.

"Not a lot of carbs," he said. "Proteins. Salads. Vegetables. Fish. We had a pretty strict diet. Sometimes, the meals weren't the best. They were pretty bland. But those are the sacrifices you have to make to get to where you want to go."

It all added up to a transformed Bast.

The junior defenseman returned to Grand Forks in excellent shape, 15 pounds lighter than last season. UND head coach Brad Berry is ready to play the right-handed shooting defenseman big minutes and in every situation when the season begins this weekend against Canisius in Ralph Engelstad Arena (7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday).

"It was probably the biggest summer I've ever had in my life," Bast said. "This is the best I've ever felt on the ice. It was a different style of training. It was more body weight, movement and getting my athleticism back rather than just pounding weights and trying to bulk up before the season."

Berry noticed a difference right away.

"His body composition and his conditioning were the first things that were pretty evident," Berry said. "He looks slimmer. He looks quicker. I think it allows him to build his endurance and play in more situations. He's going to be called upon to play in every situation, so I think that was important. The biggest thing was his body composition and improving his quickness."

Berry also said it helps working out with NHL players. In addition to Jost and Fabbro, who plays for the Nashville Predators, they were joined by the New York Islanders' leading scorer, Mathew Barzal, the 2017 NHL rookie of the year.

"That pushes the bar for you, too, a little bit, as far as what the NHL guys are doing," Berry said. "He was with us for five or six weeks when we were here, but back there, he was training. He wasn't letting the foot off the gas. He was training with some high-end players."

It was the first summer in a while where Bast was even able to work out.

In the summer of 2016, Bast was in the middle of a 16-month rehab of a significant groin injury.

In the summer of 2017, prior to coming to UND, Bast had shoulder surgery and a five-month rehab period.

In the summer of 2018, after his rookie year in Grand Forks, Bast had wrist surgery and had to rehab from that.

"When you have a summer to be fully healthy and (an injury) doesn't impede you at all to get to the goals you want as far as strength and conditioning, that's a big deal," Berry said.

Bast had a goal and 11 points as a rookie. He followed that up with five goals and 12 points as a sophomore. With improved quickness and conditioning, he's hoping his junior campaign will be his best to date -- just like his summer training.

"It was the biggest one for me," he said.

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Canisius at No. 18 UND

When: 7:37 tonight, 7:07 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena (tickets available).

Records: UND 0-0, Canisius 0-0.

TV/webcast/radio: Midco Sports Network, NCHCtv., The Fox (96.1 FM).

Of note: UND managed just two goals in two games last season in a pair of losses to Canisius in Buffalo's HarborCenter.