April 12, 2003: Thomas Vanek capped a masterful freshman year with the Gophers, scoring the game-winning goal in a 5-1 rout over New Hampshire in the Frozen Four championship in Buffalo, N.Y. Vanek also had an assist in the game, giving him 62 points on the season, the first freshman to lead the team in scoring since Mike Antonovich in 1969-70. Seventeen of Vanek’s 31 goals came in the third period or overtime, and those 31 goals were second most all-time by a Gophers freshman behind only John Mayasich's 32 goals in 1951-52.
“We call him Carmelo,’’ Grant Potulny said, referring to Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony who led the Orangemen to the men's NCAA basketball title earlier that week.
In the hockey title game, Vanek flipped seven shots on Wildcats goalie Mike Ayers before finding the back of the net with about 8 minutes left to break a 1-1 tie and open a Gophers floodgate to end the game.
“This championship means so much’’ said Vanek, who was named most outstanding player in the Frozen Four. “When it was tied, I looked at my linemates and said, ‘We have to step up.’ Most of the time when we do that it works out’’
It did against the Wildcats, and Vanek said talk of a “three-peat’’ began on the Gophers bench with about 2 minutes remaining. Vanek would spur the NHL in the offseason and return to campus for his sophomore season. But as we all know, Vanek’s college career ended 50 weeks later, and there have been no further titles.