Gophers return to championship game

Minnesota to face New Hampshire

Posted: Friday, April 11, 2003

BUFFALO, N.Y. - So much for the theory defending champion Minnesota was too young to make it back to the NCAA title game.

With freshman Thomas Vanek leading the way, anything is possible.

Vanek scored on a bad-angle shot 8:55 into overtime, lifting the Golden Gophers to a 3-2 victory over Michigan in Thursday's semifinal. Gino Guyer and Troy Riddle also scored and Travis Weber stopped 31 shots for the Gophers, who overcame a 2-0 deficit.

Minnesota (29-8-9) will face New Hampshire in Saturday's final, with the Golden Gophers having an opportunity to become the first team to repeat as champions since Boston University won in 1971 and 1972.

The Wildcats, behind Steve Saviano's two goals, beat top-seeded Cornell 3-2 in the day's other Frozen Four semifinal.

"I guess I'm just the lucky one in the right spot," said Vanek, who leads the team with 30 goals, four of them game-winners. "This is really satisfying. This is why I came here, to get a shot at the title. And now we do."

Vanek, who also had an assist, ended the game when he pounced on a loose puck in the left corner. Spinning away from a Wolverines defender, he snapped a shot from just below the circle, beating goalie Al Montoya through the legs.

Brandon Kaleniecki and Jed Ortmeyer scored for Michigan (30-10-2), which lost its third semifinal game in three years, including last year's 3-2 loss to the Gophers. The Wolverines, who lead the NCAA with nine hockey titles, have not advanced to the championship game since winning the title in 1998.

"When it gets down to overtime, it's tough to swallow," Wolverines coach Red Berenson said. "Maybe it's just another game, but our team fully expected to be in the championship game."

Minnesota, which has won four titles, returns to the championship game despite losing most of the core of last year's team. This season's Gophers feature only two seniors and six juniors. Minnesota is coached by former University of Alaska Fairbanks head coach and UA Anchorage assistant coach Don Lucia.

Michigan appeared to go up 3-2 with 10:09 left in regulation. Jason Ryznar's shot deflected off several legs and eventually trickled in. The goal was disallowed when referee Scott Hansen, backed by a video review, ruled he whistled down play before the puck crossed the goal line.

Ryznar, who attended Anchorage's Service High School, had another chance to score with 3:15 remaining. With Weber out of position, Ryznar shot at an unguarded net, only to have his backhander from the slot blocked by diving Gophers defenseman Paul Martin.

New Hampshire 3, Cornell 2

BUFFALO, N.Y. - After a reprieve when replay disallowed a goal against him, Mike Ayers and the New Hampshire Wildcats finally woke up.

Ayers stopped 19 shots, including one off his mask in the waning seconds, as New Hampshire advanced to the NCAA championship game with an upset victory over top-seeded Cornell. Steve Saviano had two goals and Tim Horst also scored, as New Hampshire (28-7-6) advanced to Saturday's title game.

Ryan Vesce and Chris Abbott scored for Cornell (30-5-1), which had gone 14-0-1 in its last 15 game. The Big Red, eliminated in last year's NCAA tournament quarterfinals by New Hampshire, were trying to win their first title since 1970, when they finished 29-0.

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