Vanek will return to Gophers, Buffalo GM says

Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier said recently that Gophers hockey star Thomas Vanek will return to the Gophers for his sophomore season. Also, Gophers hockey recruit Danny Irmen impresses Wild officials, while the Gophers volleyball team is picked by coaches to win the Big Ten title. Read this and other Gophers sports news.

One down, one to go.

While the announcement has not been made official by Thomas Vanek or Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia, the Buffalo News reported over the weekend that Vanek - the sophomore from Austria who was the MVP of the Frozen Four and fifth overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in June's NHL Entry Draft, is going to return to play at least another season with the Golden Gophers.

"We feel that he could probably play in the National Hockey League this year," said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier, "but it would be in a limited role, and in all likelihood he would be best served with the continuation of his development at the University of Minnesota."

Vanek recently left for a three-week trip home to his native Austria, a sign that he was leaning towards returning to the Gophers. Vanek could have commanded a $1.1 million signing bonus to sign with the Sabres, but instead appears set to return to the Gophers to try and help the team win a third consecutive national title.

Meanwhile, Gophers senior defenseman and New Jersey Devils draft pick Paul Martin has not made up his mind yet on whether to turn pro or return to the Gophers. One of Martin's major concerns, media reports say, is the possibility of an NHL lockout next year. That could affect when Martin could receive the expected $800,000 signing bonus he is likely to receive by signing with the Stanley Cup Champions.

GOPHERS HOCKEY RECRUIT IMPRESSES WILD

Danny Irmen, a Gophers recruit drafted by the Minnesota Wild, made a big impression on Wild GM Doug Risebrough and Wild coaches and personnel during recent workouts, Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman reported.

"He is a tenacious hockey player whose performance on the ice is not pretty, but very effective," said Risebrough.

NOT SO QUIET RIOT

A 19-year-old Savage man pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree arson for setting fire to an overturned car April 12 during the hockey riot near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Ahmad S. Samaha was sentenced to four months in the Hennepin County workhouse and three years of probation. District Judge Lucy Wieland ordered him to write letters of apology to the university community and to the car's owner, and pay $500 to a state reparations fund.

PRESEASON ACCOLADES FOR GOPHERS VOLLEYBALL TEAM

Winning the Big Ten title once was hard enough for the Golden Gophers volleyball team, but twice? Big Ten volleyball coaches think the Gophers can do just that.

The Gophers were unanimously selected to repeat as conference champions in the 2003 Big Ten Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll, according to a recent announcement by Big Ten officials. It marks the first time in school history that the Golden Gophers have been named a preseason favorite.

Penn State was picked second in the Preseason Coaches Poll, while Michigan State and Wisconsin were third and fourth. Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa and Purdue rounded out the rest of the poll.

Minnesota also had a conference-high three players named to the Preseason All-Big Ten team, which was represented by players from nine different squads. Cassie Busse (Prior Lake, Minn.) was named to the team for a second year in a row, while Paula Gentil (Forteleaza Ceara', Brazil) and Lindsey Taatjes (Prinsburg, Minn.) were honored for the first time. All three players were named First Team All-Big Ten in 2002.

The Golden Gophers finished 17-3 in the Big Ten last season, 32-6 overall.

GOPHERS HOOPS RECRUIT ALSO MAKES IMPRESSION

Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders was impressed by Chaska's 6-9 Spencer Tollackson, a Gophers recruit who played for the Minnesota Magic at a 140-team AAU tournament in Orlando last week. The Magic made it to the final round of 16 before being eliminated, and Tollackson was a key reason.

"He is an inside player who really bangs," Saunders said in the Star Tribune.

A WHALE OF A SUB

Gophers guard Lindsay Whalen of Hutchinson, Minn., scored 10 points off the bench to help the U.S. team advance to the semifinals of the FIBA Young Women World Basketball Championship with an 80-56 victory over Australia on Friday in Sibenik, Croatia.

"Lindsay Whalen came in and helped us maintain our tempo," U.S. coach Jim Foster said. "Some of our starters didn't have a great day, but our bench was terrific. Our depth really paid off."

PACKING THE HOUSE

The University of Minnesota women's hockey team led the nation in attendance for the 2002-03 season, according to official figures released by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Golden Gophers averaged 1,943 people in 14 home games last season.

As a whole, the WCHA took the top three spots in the nation. Following Minnesota was Minnesota-Duluth with an average of 1,288 and Wisconsin, who averaged 904. North Dakota, set to join the WCHA in 2004-05, was ranked fifth nationally with an average of 836 fans per game.

Matt Krumrie covers Gophers sports for GoldenSports.net. He can be reached at Gophershockeyinsider@yahoo.com

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