From Austria To Finland: A Tale Of Two Golden Gophers


From a physical standpoint, Thomas Vanek and Erik Haula aren’t similar in the slightest. Vanek, who currently plays for the Buffalo Sabres and attended the University of Minnesota for two years, is 6’2”, with blond hair and blue eyes, and a heaver build. Haula, who is currently going into his third year as a Gopher, is 5’11” with brunette hair and a smaller built. They come from two different countries but both are similar in one way – they are the only two European players to play under Head Coach Don Lucia.

Lucia has been coaching the Golden Gophers since the 99’-00’ season, winning two Frozen Four championships and several WCHA championships with the team. Vanek was a part of the last Gophers squad that won the Frozen Four in 2003, while Haula excelled in Minnesota’s bid to the Frozen Four this past season as they fell short to the Boston College Eagles.

Thomas Vanek exceeded expectations his first year as a Gopher; potting 31 goals in 45 games, and ending the season with 62 points. Vanek took many honors away from that season, including being named MVP of the Frozen Four in 2003, and being named MVP of the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the season. He was the first freshman to receive that honor from the team in its history. Vanek was also the third Golden Gopher to win the WCHA Rookie Of The Year award.

In his second year, his point production decreased but this is due to a shoulder injury he sustained within the middle of the year. Vanek still led the Gophers for a second straight season with 51 points and was named Twin Cities Best College Athlete in 2004.

Erik Haula, a draft pick of the Minnesota Wild, will be heading into his third year at the University of Minnesota. Not making as much noise as Vanek did in his own freshman year, Haula was still able to lead the freshmen on the team in points in his first season as a Gopher; in the 2010-11 season. He had 24 points on the year as comparable to Vanek’s 61 points in his first season. Haula also only played 34 games compared to Vanek’s 45.

In Haula’s sophomore year as a Gopher, he played 43 games and increased his point total to 49. He was also the first Gopher to get 17 points in one month, with his predecessor being Thomas Vanek in that category. While Haula has not hit the numbers that Vanek had when he was still with the team, he is still a considerable offensive threat for opposing teams in the league.

From looking at the statistics alone, one could say that these two players play nearly the same sort of style of hockey. Haula is, in fact, faster due to his small size and seems to be able to create more space with his moves while also being able to score incredible goals. Vanek was a man among boys during his time at the University and based on several video highlights, you could tell that he could maneuver easily around the opposition. It’ll be interesting to see how well 21-year old Erik Haula does when he does reach the NHL whether it is with the Minnesota Wild or another team. He could perhaps hit the same number of points that Vanek has achieved in his seven years gone pro.