Vanek’s OT Winner Sends Gophers Back To Title Game

It ended suddenly.

After 60 minutes of hockey produced a 2-2 tie, Minnesota’s Thomas Vanek scored his 30th goal of the year to give the Gophers a 3-2 win over Michigan Thursday evening, sending Minnesota to the NCAA title game for a second straight year.

Vanek’s goal, at 8:55 of the extra period, came from a hard angle alongside the net. The freshman phenom collected the puck in the corner, skated below the goal line and reversed field, spinning a wraparound-type shot from 15 feet away that slipped past Wolverine netminder Al Montoya (29 saves).

The win leaves Minnesota’s quest for back-to-back titles intact, a feat not seen since Boston University repeated in 1972. That 31-year gap is the longest in any NCAA sport.

Minnesota’s Gino Guyer tied the game up early in the third, getting loose in the high slot, taking a Barry Tallackson backhand pass from along the boards and one-timing it through Montoya’s five-hole at 1:35. The sophomore’s goal left the game knotted at 2 at the end of regulation.

The Wolverines turned up the heat after Guyer’s goal, luring the Gophers into a pair of penalties in the ensuing minutes, but could not capitalize on the power plays.

Michigan then had a potential go-ahead goal waved off with nine minutes left.

Jason Ryznar banged a shot off the side of the net, and he and linemate David Moss collapsed on the puck. Goaltender Travis Weber (31 saves) attempted to cover it in the crease, drawing a whistle from referee Scott Hansen an instant before the puck was pushed across the goal line.

Ryznar came close again with three minutes left in regulation. With Weber down on the wrong side after a save, Ryznar had his point-blank shot at the open half of the net blocked by sprawling defenseman Paul Martin.

Goals by Michigan’s Brandon Kaleniecki and Jed Ortmeyer had put Michigan up by two midway through the contest, but Troy Riddle scored for Minnesota to narrow the lead to 2-1 after 40 minutes of play.

After a wide-open first period dominated by Michigan, the pace evened — or at least slowed — early in the second.

Despite three combined power plays, neither team generated much offense until Ortmeyer got free in the slot and backhanded Jeff Tambellini’s centering pass through Weber’s five-hole at 14:38.

But Riddle pulled the Gophers within one with his 26th goal of the year, reaching around the net to tap in a loose puck which lay behind Montoya after two Minnesota shots.

Outskating Minnesota early in the game and getting the better of the offensive exchanges, Michigan sported a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.

The margin on the scoreboard could have been wider, as Michigan outshot Minnesota 15-5 in the first. But Weber was sterling in stopping several grade-A scoring chances.

A pair of early power plays resulted in no scoring, though Michigan’s Andrew Ebbett forced Weber into a tough save, moving laterally after a pass from behind the net.

At 9:33, Kaleniecki put the Wolverines ahead with his 14th goal of the season. Off a faceoff in the Minnesota zone, the puck squirted free to Kaleniecki, and the freshman blasted it just inside the right post.

Weber stopped another tough chance late in the first, making a pad save on Eric Nystrom’s one-timer from the left side of the slot.

Minnesota (27-8-9) will face New Hampshire (28-7-6) for the NCAA title at 7 p.m. ET Saturday.


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