Vannelli opts to leave program

Minnesota will be without freshman Tommy Vannelli on the ice this year.

Minnetonka High School graduate Tommy Vannelli has left the Gophers hockey program, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia announced Tuesday.

Minnetonka High School Hockey Boosters

Minnetonka High School graduate Tommy Vannelli has left the Gophers hockey program, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia announced Tuesday.

Jake Stark

The Gophers men’s hockey team hasn’t played a game this season, but it’s already one man down.

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia announced Tuesday that freshman Tommy Vannelli has decided to leave the team.

“After a few weeks of trying to balance academics and athletics, Tommy made the decision this morning that college hockey was not the best route for him at this time,” Lucia said in a statement.

Vannelli, who played high school hockey in Minnetonka, was considered an elite prospect for the Gophers.

While he was still in high school, Vannelli played for the U.S. in the 2013 U18 World Championships in Sochi, Russia. He also competed for the U.S. team in the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

The St. Louis Blues drafted Vannelli in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, but he chose to play for the Gophers this year — a commitment he honored until Tuesday.

Vannelli, a defenseman, was expected to help fill the defensive holes left by Nate Schmidt, who left for the NHL after last season, and Seth Helgeson, who graduated.

Instead, Lucia may have to rely on Michael Brodzinski and Jake Bischoff, the two remaining freshman defensemen for the Gophers, to make up for Vannelli’s departure.