Vanek forgoes junior and senior years, signs three-year contract with Buffalo

After just two years, the forward was 56th on the program’s all-time scoring list.

Kent Erdahl

Thomas Vanek became the third Minnesota men’s hockey player to forgo his remaining college eligibility and sign a professional contract this off-season on Friday.

Vanek, a forward with the Gophers in 2002-03 and 2003-04, joined recent NHL signees Keith Ballard (Phoenix Coyotes) and Jake Taylor (New York Rangers) by signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Buffalo Sabres.

He had two years of eligibility left.

In Vanek, the Gophers lose one of the most prolific goal scorers in recent history. In 83 career games, Vanek racked up 57 goals and 56 assists, placing him 56th all-time with 113 total points.

“Obviously, we would have loved to have him back one more year,” head coach Don Lucia said. “But with somebody laying a contract like that out in front of you when you’re 20 years old, and you’re guaranteed that kind of money, you’ve got no choice but to accept it.”

The loss of Vanek is especially tough for the Gophers because it came just three days before school begins and the team meets to prepare for the upcoming season.

But Lucia said the contract probably took so long because Buffalo chose Vanek with the number five selection of the 2003 entry draft, which was the highest ever for a Gopher.

“I think that this was just Buffalo waiting him out and trying to get him cheaper,” Lucia said. “And Thomas wasn’t going to leave unless he got a contract worthy of where he got drafted.”

Lucia said Vanek was very open with the coaching staff about his situation, and he added that he is happy for Vanek despite the early exit.

“That’s the environment we live in today, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Lucia said. “On Tuesday we’ll have our meeting, and that will be our team – the guys that are there.”

FSN gets hoops, football

Fox Sports Net North struck a multi-year deal with ESPN Regional Television to carry Minnesota men’s basketball and football games.

The football team’s Saturday game against Illinois State will be televised on the station along with 13 men’s basketball games to be determined.

Fans didn’t see much of either team last season because Victory Sports One, which carried many of the games, could not agree to terms with many cable providers.

Victory Sports folded in May, leaving ESPN to search for another buyer to televise the games locally.

The deal means Saturday’s football game against Illinois State will start at 2:30 p.m. instead of 1 p.m., as was earlier scheduled.

FSN North spokesman Greg Phillips said in mid-August that a deal between FSN and ESPN was not imminent.

Men’s golf ranked 23rd

Minnesota’s men’s golf team was ranked 23rd in the nation in a preview poll published by Golf World.

Sophomore and 2003 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Bronson La’Cassie was also named one of the top 50 male golfers to watch.

No other Big Ten team was ranked in the top 25 poll. Minnesota begins its season Sept. 27-28 at the Husky Invitational in Bremerton, Wash.