Vanek Leaves Gophers, Signs With Buffalo

Forward Thomas Vanek has signed a contract with the Buffalo Sabres and will forgo his final two seasons at Minnesota, the school announced Friday.

Vanek, an All-American last season who was selected by the Sabres with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, is the third Gophers player to leave school early for the pros this offseason, joining defensemen Keith Ballard and Jake Taylor.

“Thomas was an impact player in our program from his first game and was a major reason we were able to win a national title two years ago,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said in a statement. “He is certainly one of the best players I have ever had the privilege of coaching. I think he grew a lot as a person and as a player during his time at the University of Minnesota. As the first European to play for the Golden Gophers, Thomas has paved the way for future overseas players to come to Minnesota.

“Thomas has been very honest and open throughout the summer with us regarding negotiations and finally received the offer he deserved. He certainly will be missed in our program, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will have a terrific career in the NHL. I can’t thank Thomas enough for being a part of Golden Gophers hockey and wish him a lot of success at the next level.”

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported in Friday’s editions that Vanek’s signing bonus would be $1 million. No terms of the contract were released.

In 83 games over two seasons, Vanek scored 57 goals and added 56 assists. His career 1.36 points per game average ranks 10th on Minnesota’s all-time list.

The 2003 Frozen Four most outstanding player, Vanek helped the Gophers to their second straight national championship that season with two game-winning goals and four points in the Frozen Four.