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Vanek's hot streak could make him attractive target at NHL trade deadline

Thomas Vanek is a perfect 4-for-4 in shootouts and Detroit’s top scorer after another strong game Wednesday night. He scored the Red Wings’ first shootout goal and assisted a goal in the second period of the 6-5 victory over Boston.

Vanek has been one of the Red Wings’ leading scorers the past two months and one of the league's best the past six games with five goals, five assists and two game-winning goals. The former Wild winger and Gophers star leads the Red Wings with 12 goals and 31 points in 34 games this season.

Vanek’s success and the Red Wings’ seventh-place standing in the Atlantic Division make the veteran an attractive option for teams looking to add depth for a playoff run. The Red Wings signed Vanek to a one-year deal in July, and he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

“I always liked the way he plays,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg told The Detroit News. “He’s a creative player and he wants to create stuff all the time, and that’s something we need on this team.

“You have to have guys who want to go outside the box a little bit and are allowed to go outside the box a little bit. The way we play, with our structure, you need guys to find those plays and he’s really good at it.”

Vanek, who turned 33 Thursday, left Minnesota after two disappointing, and somewhat injury marred, seasons. The Wild bought out the final year of his contract in June and parted ways with the veteran winger.

“I'm very disappointed, especially with the new staff and coach [Bruce] Boudreau's style, I think it would fit my game a lot better,” Vanek told the Star Tribune in June, “but at the end of the day, that's the business we signed up for. But overall in my two years, I'm grateful I got the chance to play for the Wild. It was a dream of mine.

"Before I was a free agent, I had a couple offers. But I wanted to come here and see if we can make it work. It just never panned out the way we both envisioned, and now here we are."

The native of Austria had 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in two seasons with the Wild. Though he was disappointed about the buyout, Vanek said he had no regrets about returning to Minnesota, where he won a national championship with the Gophers in 2003.

“It's always easy to look back, but at the end, no, I don't. I really don't [regret it]," said Vanek. "I wanted to play here. Even though I'm not from here, I call this place home. Minnesota's close to my heart. This is something I wanted to do and I wanted to try out. I had my doubts. Is it the right fit, the right system? But it was a dream of mine to come back to the State of Hockey and to fulfill that, but obviously it finished not the way I was hoping it to."

The Wild are on pace to make the playoffs and possibly a deep run into the postseason. Maybe Vanek could find his way back to Minnesota and redeem himself. He did say Boudreau’s style would fit his game better.

Detroit coach Jeff Blashill has been impressed with Vanek since his return from a hip injury suffered early in the season.

“His battle level is real high,” Blashill told The Detroit News. “This is the only year I’ve ever had him, I can’t speak to any other year, but he’s a great person who wants to win and wants to do great things.

“I bring him in and show him things all the time and he’s receptive and tells me when he disagrees, he’s receptive to coaching and getting better. He wants to be the very best he can be. The skill set, with his compete level, has made him a real good player for us.”

Leopold, Ballard renew Border Battle in Gophers-Badgers alumni hockey game

Jordan Leopold and Keith Ballard renew their fight in the Border Battle this weekend when the former Gophers hockey stars face off against the Badgers.

The rivaly's alumni will face off at Stillwater’s Lowell Park along the St. Croix River and the state border for Minnesota Hockey Day on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The matchup will reunite some of the program’s all-time great skaters and feature players spanning from the 1980s to the late 2000s. The Gophers roster features 11 former NHL players, including former Hobey Baker Award winner Leopold and Wild defenseman Ballard.

Troy Riddle, Erik Wendell, Lance Pitlick, Ryan Kraft, Mike Anderson and Tony Lucia are among the former Gophers that will skate Saturday. The team will be coached by Mark Bahr, Jim Boo, Bill Butter and Lou Nanne.

The Badgers alumni roster features seven former NHL players led by Sean Hill, Barry Richter, David Tanabe, Adam Burish and Paul Ranheim. Wisconsin will be coached by Jeff Sauer.

Leopold, 36, told Minnesota Hockey Magazine he has not spent much time on the ice recently, but he’s not worried.

“I’ve kind of taken a good eight months off of hockey just coaching my kid,” Leopold said. “I haven’t really worked out a bunch but, you know, when you go out there it’s like riding a bike. The muscles may be a little bit sore but more than anything it’s the laughs, it’s seeing the guys, having a couple adult beverages, it’s all about good fun.

“We don’t get to see each other that much anymore. We all have kids, lives jobs. Then you’ve got guys on the other side who I grew up either watching or playing against too.”

Gophers assistant coach and former player Grant Potulny and former Gophers captain Bill Kohn help contact alumni and build the rosters. Former Badgers player Tom Sagissor also helped organize the event.

"Both teams are going to be loaded up with ego and pride, and I don't think anybody is going to leave anything out on the ice after the game," Sagissor told the Wisconsin State Journal. "I think it's going to be a lot of pride and a lot of fun. At the end of the game, everybody's going to shake hands and go have a beer. But I think it'll be a chance for us to really enjoy the spirit of the rivalry."

Friday’s other matchups include a Police vs. Firemen game and a scrimmage between the Minnesota Whitecaps women’s pro hockey team and the Korean national team.

Minnesota Hockey Day’s Saturday lineup includes two boys’ and one girls’ high school games, and one women’s college hockey game scheduled for outdoor action at Lowell Park. The Gophers and Badgers play at 5 p.m. in Madison, Wis., and the Wild host the Ducks at 8 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center. All of Saturday’s game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North and FSN Plus.  

Alumni game full rosters

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • Gophers men's hockey at Wisconsin

    7 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

  • Ohio State at Gophers women's hockey

    7:07 pm

  • Gophers women's basketball at Iowa

    2 pm

  • Ohio State at Gophers women's hockey

    2:07 pm

  • Wisconsin at Gophers men's basketball

    3:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's hockey at Wisconsin

    5 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

  • Anaheim at Wild

    8 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Denver at Timberwolves

    6 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Nashville at Wild

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Wild at Dallas

    7:30 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Phoenix

    8 pm on FSN PLUS, 830-AM

  • Gophers men's basketball at Ohio State

    6 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Indiana at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • St. Louis at Wild

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Ohio State at Gophers women's basketball

    7 pm on 1500-AM

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