Thomas Vanek remembers Buffalo's first Frozen Four

The former Sabre helped lead Minnesota to the title in 2003

Paul Hamilton
April 10, 2019 - 11:39 pm

Photo: Elsa - Getty Images


Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Buffalo hosted the Frozen Four back in 2003. Minnesota took the title over New Hampshire and had a kid named Thomas Vanek who helped the Gophers win it all. Vanek had 31 goals and 62 points in 45 games his freshman year. 

Vanek was dominant and he was ready, “As a college kid you’re just excited you got to the Frozen Four, but after we got there, we had a ton of fun. The building was loud, it was fun for us to play in it and we all know how it ended up and then I spent a long time there afterwards which is awesome because it’s a great city.”

Before they could play New Hampshire, Vanek and Minnesota had to get past Michigan. Vanek was pumped to play his rival, “With Michigan we knew I mean they’re Michigan. Now you look at Minnesota and Michigan and it’s not very good right now, but back then those were the programs and we knew we had to be at our best and we were good, they were tight battles and it ended up in overtime and I remember I came around the net and just swatted it in there, so it was a lot of fun, that was a big game for us.”

In the championship game, Minnesota and New Hampshire were 1-1 after two periods. Vanek scored in the third to make it 2-1 and the Gophers won 5-1. Vanek said they were a good group and didn’t panic after 40 minutes, “We were such a good team and what helped me as a freshman back then was we had good older guys and I bring it back to now, I relayed it to today’s NHL, you can have a lot of young skill guys, but if you don’t have the older guys to lead them and tell them this isn’t the right thing to do, so that’s what I remember that thinking, hey we’re a good team, but we have to play the right way.”

Vanek had two goals and two assists in the two games, and we got to see that Vanek swagger for the first time. He said, “This whole game is confidence. I mean you know me over the years, I’m a big believer in it. I’m not afraid to stand up here and say I failed because there are many times I did fail and that’s OK because that’s how you get better.

“For those games I felt great I thought I had a great season, I had scored the OT winner two days earlier, so I felt great about my game and if you can feel like that, the game slows down.”

Vanek hadn’t been drafted yet, and there was Buffalo sitting with the fifth overall pick in June. Columbus had the fourth pick and used it to take Nikolai Zherdev. Vanek thought for sure that’s where he was going, “Buffalo was definitely one of the teams I met, but I didn’t think I was going to end up there because Columbus at four and even the morning of the draft it was that I was going to Columbus because the first three picks were pretty much set (Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal and Nathan Horton) so Buffalo wasn’t even on my mind, but that didn’t happen and I was more than happy and it worked out great.”

The Frozen Four gets underway Thursday at 5:00 when Providence takes on Minnesota-Duluth.

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