“Too many Gophers,” Ryan Suter joked Sunday after the Wild blew past the Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 in the NHL Stadium Series outdoor hockey game at TCF Bank Stadium.
Suter, the Wild’s star defenseman and Wisconsin Badgers product, was responding to the standout effort from the Wild’s three Gophers alumni: Thomas Vanek, Erik Haula and Mike Reilly.
The trio combined for five points led by Haula’s goal and two assists, good enough for the game’s first star honor, on the University of Minnesota campus where they became college hockey stars.
Vanek scored the game’s second goal in the first period with the second assist going to Reilly. Haula assisted the third and fourth goals in the second period and finished off the blowout when he was awarded an automatic goal after being taken down on a breakaway to an open net in the third period.
“It was fun seeing those guys score,” Suter said. “They were loving it. I think Haulsy was really loving it after the game. It was good to see those guys have fun back here where it all started.”
Haula compiled a career-high three points and contributed his fourth multipoint game in the past seven.
“It was incredible,” said Haula, who played three years (2010-13) with the Gophers. “What a feeling, first to get the win and the whole team to play that well, and having 50,000 people being back where we started. It was incredible.”
Vanek was part of the last Gophers men’s hockey team to win a national championship in 2003. His last goal on campus was March 13, 2004, until he scored Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium, a venue that didn’t even exist when he wore maroon and gold.
“Usually I don’t celebrate too much, but [Sunday] I think I was fired up, so it was fun,” said Vanek, who played two seasons (2002-04) for the Gophers. “All of us had a great time playing here for the U, so I think coming back was extra special for us, so for us to have a hand in [the win] was great.”
Reilly, playing his rookie season, looked comfortable on the outdoor stage logging 16-plus minutes in his second outdoor hockey game at TCF Bank Stadium. He played with the Gophers in the Hockey City Classic in January 2014 and at Soldier Field in Chicago as a freshman in 2013.
Reilly couldn’t really imagine himself playing in this game just several weeks ago. He has spent most of the season in the AHL with the Iowa Wild, but is playing a bigger role with the parent club as a result of injuries. He has one goal and three assists in the past five games.
“I guess the score sheet looked pretty good for the Gophers,” Reilly said. “It’s just great for the Gophers to produce a little bit offensively.
“It’s nice it’s on the home turf here. I’m sure a lot of students were watching and a lot of classmates as well. So it was a great atmosphere for sure.”
Gophers coach Don Lucia was in attendance to see his former players shine on campus once again and saw a lot of familiar things from the trio.
“Typical Thomas Vanek goal, a nice in front of the net redirection. I was happy for him,” Lucia said. “Then seeing Erik make some really nice plays on those goals.
… [Mike has a] zero panic point with the puck. He hasn’t played a lot of games, but every game he plays he starts to look more comfortable.
“Those three guys were great players for our program … it was a fun event and I’m proud of those guys and how they represented the Wild and our program.”