Monday, April 12, 2010
Following the loss of future NHLers leading scorer center Johnny Pohl, second leading scorer center Jeff Taffe and third leading scorer, captain and Hobey Baker Award winner defenseman Jordan Leopold, the defending national champion University of Minnesota Golden Gophers reloaded for 2002-03 with a new offensive weapon, Thomas Vanek.
Vanek, a native of Austria came from the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League, where he led the USHL in goals (46), assists (45) and points (91) in 53 games, outdistancing his nearest competitor by 15 points.
The Gophers opened their defense of their title by defeating Ohio State 7-2 at the Xcel Energy Center in the annual Hall of Fame Game in front of 15,204 fans. Highlights of their regular season included a five game winning streak in December, which included a two-game sweep on the road at rival Wisconsin, and exhibition win over the Italy National Team and winning their annual holiday tournament with wins over Yale and nationally ranked Boston College.
February saw a four game winning streak with a victory at Colorado College, another sweep of Wisconsin, this time at home, and a win up in Duluth over the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Minnesota finished the WCHA regular season with a 15-6-7 conference record (20-2-2 overall), good for second place in the WCHA with future NHL defensemen Paul Martin and Keith Ballard and forward Vanek being named to the All-WCHA Second Team following a 31 goal, 62 point season, which was good for sixth in the nation.
By finishing second in the WCHA, Minnesota hosted ninth place Michigan Tech and advanced to the WCHA Final Five on the basis of a pair of 3-1 and 5-2 wins.
Their next opponent was the Minnesota State Mavericks, who finished with an identical 15-6-7 WCHA record. The Gophers advanced with a narrow 3-2 overtime win in front of 17,012 spectators to meet WCHA regular season champions Colorado College. In the championship game Minnesota prevailed with a 4-2 win to capture the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA playoff champions.
Five teams were picked that season for the NCAA National Tournament, with Minnesota being named the #1 seed in the West Regional played at their home rink at Mariucci Arena where they would face #4 seed Mercyhurst.
Minnesota advanced with a 9-2 win over the Lakers to face the Ferris State Bulldogs, 5-2 winners over North Dakota. Minnesota extended their winning streak to six games by easily advancing to the Frozen Four in Buffalo, New York by a final score of 7-4.
Their semi-final opponent in Buffalo would be traditional college hockey powerhouse the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan got on the scoreboard first, halfway through the first period on a goal off of a faceoff to take a 1-0 lead. The Wolverines would extend their lead to 2-0 before Vanek would get Minnesota on the board with two minutes remaining in the second period.
A minute and a half into the third period Gino Guyer pulled the Gophers even with a goal from the slot. The remainder of the third period was a tense, close fought battle that settled nothing and the contest went into overtime, where Vanek set Minnesota to their second consecutive national championship game when he came out from behind the Wolverines net after reversing course and put a sharp angle shot through the goaltender to win the game for Minnesota.
Their opponents were Hockey East champions, the New Hampshire Wildcats. Minnesota went out on top at the nine minute mark on a shot from the point by Martin but New Hampshire even the score with less than 20 seconds remaining on a power play goal that was banked in off Minnesota goalie Travis Weber.
The second period was played scoreless, as was the first eight minutes of the third before Vanek took control of the game, first with a nifty play after receiving the puck at the blueline on a three-on-two. Once into the left faceoff circle, Vanek slammed on the brakes, cut to the middle of the ice, losing his defensman in the process. He then drew the goalie out who went down as he cut around him to the right, easily putting the puck into the open net to put the Gophers up 2-1 with 11:46 remaining.
With 8:43 remaining, Vanek split the defense to create a scoring chance which was stopped. Jon Waibel gathered up the rebound and executed a nice give and go with Vanek to create some space and fired the puck in from 15 feet out to extend Minnesota's lead to 3-1 with an assist from Vanek.
Barry Tallackson slammed in a pass from the side of the net on a Gopher power play with 6 1/2 minutes remaining to put the game out of reach at 4-1 and the Gophers added an empty net goal to make the final score 5-1 to take their second consecutive NCAA national championship and Vanek was named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player.
Vanek would subsequently be drafted #5 overall in that spring's NHL Entry Draft and return to Buffalo as a member of the Sabres.
Today's featured jersey is a Mission 2002-03 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Thomas Vanek jersey. Minnesota had won the national title the year before wearing identical jerseys made by Nike, but changed to Mission jerseys for the 2002-03 season.
This jersey features the 2003 Frozen Four patch worn by all four teams at that year's Frozen Four, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Michigan and Cornell. Minnesota wore their white jerseys for both games in Buffalo.
Today's first video is an excellent recap of the Minnesota Gophers 2003 Frozen Four.
Next up is a great collection of Vanek highlights while he was with the Golden Gophers featuring the outstanding announcing of Frank Mazzocco.