Gophers’ Vanek hits yet another scoring milestone

Lou Raguse

Minnesota’s men’s hockey forward Thomas Vanek scored two goals, including the game-winner, in the Gophers’ 4-2 win over St. Cloud State last Friday. The next night he assisted on Ryan Potulny’s game-winning goal.

Vanek was rewarded with WCHA co-offensive player of the week, and Minnesota’s coaches said they notice an increased intensity in him during practice that carries over into the games.

“It’s fuel for him to score a couple goals,” assistant coach Bob Motzko said. “He knows why he scored them – he worked hard.”

Vanek’s three points Friday put him above 100 in his career.

The sophomore currently has 52 goals and 51 assists in 77 career games played. Only seniors Troy Riddle and Grant Potulny have more career points for active Gophers players.

“To get the goals is fortunate, but I don’t really care about that right now,” Vanek said. “We need wins, and that’s all that counts.”

Sioux come through

North Dakota secured first place in the WCHA last Friday when it beat Michigan Tech 5-1 at home. The Sioux again won 5-1 on Saturday.

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod brought the MacNaughton Cup to Duluth, Minn., on Feb. 27 when the Bulldogs faced North Dakota. When Minnesota-Duluth failed to clinch first place, McLeod sent the trophy back to Grand Forks, N.D., with the Sioux in anticipation of them clinching last weekend.

“None of the coaches want to get the ‘kiss of death,’ ” McLeod said. “They’re all worried about getting the hex of seeing the cup before they win it.”

When McLeod talked to Sioux coach Dean Blais about bringing the cup to Ralph Engelstad Arena, Blais agreed – as long as it didn’t ride on the bus with the team.

McLeod sent the trophy with the Sioux’s equipment manager in a separate vehicle, and after it spent a week in the Engelstad Arena basement, McLeod finally presented the MacNaugton Cup to North Dakota on Friday.

“More than one coach has told us that winning the MacNaughton Cup might be the hardest thing there is to do,” McLeod said. “You do it over the long haul, and when you look at how tough the league is, it’s really an accomplishment. My hat’s off to North Dakota.”

Badgers claim third

After being swept in Minnesota on Jan. 30-31, Wisconsin finished the rest of its season 5-1-2, good for third place in the league.

The Badgers have made great strides in all areas of their game since last year, when they finished seventh in the WCHA with a sub-.500 record.

“We made a quantum leap,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. “There was not the natural progress of improvement – we just went from seventh to third.”

A big part of the turnaround is credited to goaltender Bernd Bruckler, a likely candidate for WCHA player of the year.

Bruckler holds a .924 saves percentage this season, and did not play in Wisconsin’s 4-1 loss to Minnesota-Duluth last Saturday. The Bulldogs also rested goaltender Isaac Reichmuth in preparation for playoffs.

There is a good chance the two teams will meet again in the WCHA Final Five if both get past the first round, and Eaves said he likes his team’s chances.

“On any given night, I think either team can win,” Eaves said. “I think they’re that close.”