Vanek Leads Gophers To Repeat Championship

A long wait is over.

Minnesota, behind the clutch play of freshman phenom Thomas Vanek, blew open a tie game in the third period, defeating New Hampshire 5-1 to defend its NCAA title at HSBC Arena. The Gophers are the first repeat champion since Boston University in 1972.

Vanek, the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player, scored the game winning goal and added an assist in the third period, and the Gophers overcame a sterling performance from UNH goaltender Mike Ayers.

Vanek’s goal, his 31st of the season, was a spectacular individual effort. The rookie from Graz, Austria, drove deep into the New Hampshire zone, cutting around a defender, drawing Ayers down and out and calmly depositing the puck in the open net from the right side.

He then created the play on the Gophers’ third goal, circling up from below the goal line and passing to Jon Waibel in the high slot. Waibel’s shot landed in the net just inside the far post to make it 3-1.

UNH’s Nathan Martz took a penalty immediately after Waibel’s goal, and the Gophers capitalized on the resulting power play. Gino Guyer, parked along the far boards, sent a pass through the top of the crease to Barry Tallackson, who tapped the puck in from the back door.

Tallackson also tallied an empty-netter to close out the scoring. Gopher netminder Travis Weber made 26 saves in the win.

Minnesota’s three critical goals came in a span of less than six minutes, blowing open what had been a tight game through two periods. Minnesota and New Hampshire were tied 1-1 after 40 minutes thanks largely to Ayers, who had made 29 saves, several of the outstanding variety, to that point.

New Hampshire had had the better chances early in the second, including a point-blank stuff attempt by Jim Abbott and a slapshot off the stick of Josh Prudden that Weber saved by stretching out a pad.

But Ayers continued his sterling play by keeping the Gophers off the board, his best effort being a save on Troy Riddle from the slot during a Minnesota power play.

In the final seconds, Tallackson had another chance to regain the lead for Minnesota on a shorthanded breakaway, but his wrister hit the far post.

Through two periods, Minnesota outshot New Hampshire 30-16.

In a first period which featured some hard hits, Minnesota defenseman Matt DeMarchi scored the first goal just after the end of a Gopher power play.

DeMarchi fired a slapshot from the top of the right circle, beating Ayers five-hole through traffic at 10:58 of the first. Garrett Smaagaard got the lone assist.

Minnesota controlled play for the next few minutes, eventually building a 16-4 advantage in shots on goal at one point late in the period.

But UNH took advantage of a late power play to tie the score.

On the play, bang-bang passing from Nathan Martz found Sean Collins alone on the back door, and the sophomore easily scored into the open net at 19:41 to tie the game.