BOSTON, MA--New Hampshire goaltender Mike Ayers (Hingham, MA ) and Minnesota rookie forward Thomas Vanek (Graz, Austria) were named winners of the IHCCA Commissioners’ Choice Awards for March and April. The awards honor Division I men’s college hockey’s top player and top rookie of the month and are selected by the Ice Hockey Collegiate Commissioners’ Association (IHCCA). Ayers, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, guided the Wildcats to their fourth Frozen Four appearance in the last six years and their second National Championship game appearance.
Ayers, the Hockey East Co-Player of the Year and a JOFA Second-Team All-American, posted an 8-1-0 record with a 2.29 GAA and a .922 save percentage from March 1 to April 12. Opening that span, Ayers finished the regular season with 24 saves in a 4-1 win over Boston College that clinched the No. 1 Hockey East seed just ahead of BC. He then secured UNH its second consecutive Hockey East championship with 24 saves in a 1-0 overtime win over Boston University and went on to shutout the Terriers once again (3-0) in the Northeast Regional final. He totalled 35 saves in a 5-2 regional semifinal win over St. Cloud, stopping all 19 shots he faced in the third period, and was subsequently named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
At the Frozen Four, Ayers outduelled Hobey Finalist David LeNeveu in the early semifinal to post a 3-2 win. In the title game against Minnesota, he posted double-digit save totals in each period and finished with 40 total saves. Ayers finished the season with a 2.18 GAA and a .926 save percentage, both third-best in the nation. He broke UNH single-season records for minutes (2499), shutouts (7), saves (1139), and wins (27).
Vanek, a 6-2, 208 pound freshman forward for the national champion Minnesota Golden Gophers was tabbed Commissioners’ Choice Rookie-of-the-Month. Since March 1, Vanek had seven goals and five assists in eleven games as Minnesota won the 2003 WCHA Final Five playoff championship and then became the first team since in 31 years to repeat as NCAA Champions. He had seven goals in his last seven post-season games.
Highlights of his postseason play included notching both game-winning goals in Minnesota’s two Frozen Four wins. On April 10, his wrap-around goal in overtime lifted the Gophers to a come-from-behind win over Michigan 3-2. He then snapped a 1-1 tie with a third period goal in the National Championship game against New Hampshire on April 12. Minnesota would go on to win 5-1 and Vanek was named the most outstanding player of the Frozen Four in Buffalo, NY.
Vanek also had a power-play goal in a 5-2 win vs. Michigan Tech which sent Minnesota to the WCHA Final Five. He scored the game-winner in overtime of a 3-2 win vs. Minnesota State in the WCHA Final Five semifinal. He was named MVP of the NCAA West Regional as he scored a goal in the 9-2 win vs. Mercyhurst and had two goals and one assist in the 7-4 win vs. Ferris State which sent Minnesota to the Frozen Four.
The IHCCA, with a mandate to address common issues and concerns at a national level, is comprised of the six commissioners of NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey conferences; the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), College Hockey America (CHA), the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), Hockey East Association (HEA), the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).