Hangin’ With Thomas Vanek…

Hangin’ With Thomas Vanek by Dan Rice

Recently I was able to obstruct Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek long enough to ask him about a few things off of the ice — like how big of a star he is back in Austria and his memories from his college days at the University of Minnesota. Vanek (6’2”, 205 lbs.) is a 26-year-old from Vienna, Austria, who was drafted fifth overall in the 2003 NHL Draft by Buffalo. He is arguably the most talented player to make it to the NHL from Austria, and he was able to refine his skills here in North America while playing college hockey for the Golden Gophers from 2002-2004. Vanek became the first European to ever play hockey for Minnesota and he didn’t disappoint by scoring 113 points (57g-56a) in his two collegiate seasons, while helping lead the Gophers to the 2003 NCAA title — he was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

During the NHL lockout of 2004-05, he continued to develop his game in the AHL with Buffalo’s affiliate in Rochester (68 points, 42 goals), and by the time the work stoppage was over, he was certainly NHL-ready. His rookie season he appeared in 81 games and accumulated 48 points (25g-23a) and by the following season he really became a player worth watching. Vanek netted 84 points in 82 games (43g-41a) and was a plus-47 during the 2006-07 season.

To date, his career his still blossoming, despite his slow start this season. In 404 NHL games he has amassed 320 points (176g-144a) and is Buffalo’s most lethal sniper on a nightly basis; he averages about 215 shots per season since he has been in the league and has led the Sabres in goals for four consecutive seasons. For more who Thomas Vanek is, read on:

Dan Rice: Describe what your experience was like at the University of Minnesota

Thomas Vanek: “It was great; I love college hockey. It matured me off the ice a lot, especially as a person because you don’t play as many games (as we do in the NHL). We had terrific facilities there and it is a great school. It was a great two years. I had some good memories there; we won the National Championship with Minnesota.”

DR: What do you remember about your draft day?

TV: “It was exciting; obviously I was hoping to be chosen in the first round. It didn’t really matter though; my dream was to play in the NHL. Once Buffalo selected me, that was it, I was in. I was happy to be a Sabre.”

DR: Do you remember your first NHL goal?

TV: “It took a while, 15 games into my rookie year, it was against Carolina.”

Vanek scored his first (and second) NHL goal(s) against Carolina on November 9, 2005 against Hurricanes goaltender Martin Gerber in a 5-3 Buffalo loss.

DR: How popular are you in your native Austria?

TV: “It’s grown. With my development and sticking here (in the NHL) year after year, I think it has opened some eyes back home. It’s nice, but for myself I don’t really care about it too much; for hockey back home, it’s great. I try to do as much as I can to help out any young guys that come over here. We are seeing more and more guys coming here and that’s great.”

DR: Who would you say is your best friend in the NHL?

TV: “Tough to say; I’m pretty good friends with most of the Minnesota guys around the league like Paul Martin, Alex Goligoski, Jordan Leopold, Phil Kessel, Keith Ballard and Blake Wheeler. We’re all pretty close and we all work out together in the offseason. We all come back in the summer and hang out, work out, it’s fun.”

DR: Are you a big fan of soccer and do you play at all?

TV: “Yeah I am still a big fan of the sport. I don’t play too much anymore; I don’t really have time for that. Growing up I played a lot, but I still follow it very closely.”

DR: What do you usually bring with you on a road trip?

TV: “It usually depends on how long of a trip it is; typically just my computer, iPod and my phone.”

To learn more about Thomas Vanek you can check out his website: http://www.thomasvanek.at/index.php?id=2&L=1 or visit sabres.nhl.com. Hope you enjoyed his story and if there is a player you would like to see interviewed in the future please let me know.

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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Sabres Crush Devils 6-1 in Latest Home Debacle

Buffalo 6         Devils 1

Not only did the New Jersey Devils lose badly to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night, but rookie coach John MacLean may have lost one of his superstars — making Ilya Kovalchuk and his $100 million dollar contract a healthy scratch. Kovalchuk was not made available to the media after the game, but MacLean was — and the only explanation for the odd move was, “I’m not going to get into it. That’s between him and I. That was my decision.”

The Devils’ players that did play in the 6-1 thrashing, didn’t show any signs of life after the first five minutes of the game and fell to a disappointing 0-4-1 at the Prudential Center this season. “Early on the Devils were the team that was rested and they came hard,” said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, “but we settled into an organized game and got the pucks where we needed them.”

When asked if he welcomed the team’s upcoming six-game road trip that begins Sunday night at MSG, New Jersey’s David Clarkson didn’t hold back, stating: “It couldn’t get any better. I think it’s an opportunity for us to get to know each other better; a chance to get on the road and do some team bonding, go out together. I think just a thing where you get to know everybody; that’s something that will help us out a lot.”

Miller was his usual stingy self in nets for the winners, turning aside 26 of the 27 shots he faced; his only error of the night was when his US Olympic teammate Zach Parise ended the netminder’s shutout bid with 8:35 left in the game. Offensively the Sabres seemed to score at will against Johan Hedberg, who was making his Devils debut — and it was an ugly one as he was pulled after surrendering four goals on 13 shots.

Even Martin Brodeur (who shutout the Sabres 1-0 last week) was unable to stop the barrage of goals and was touched up for two goals by Thomas Vanek. The Austrian sniper almost completed the hat trick, if not for Brodeur’s glove save with 2:27 left in the game. “Great save; great goaltender,” said Vanek afterwards. “I thought that was one of my better shots of the game — he just made an unbelievable save on it.”

Buffalo got goals from four different goal scorers — Drew Stafford 6:57 of the first period, Tyler Myers at 16:33, Tyler Ennis at 3:10 of the second and Patrick Kaleta at 8:17 — before Vanek netted his pair to seal the victory. “I don’t think I played as well as I did some of the other nights where I didn’t score,” said Vanek humbly, “but I got two tonight. Obviously I’ll take it and hopefully I can keep it going.”

Even his teammates had no clue that Kovalchuk wasn’t playing until they arrived in the late afternoon and they didn’t know why he wasn’t playing, but didn’t use it as an excuse for the dreadful performance. “I had no idea until I got here this afternoon, so I’m not sure what happened or what’s going on,” said Clarkson in the somber Devils locker room. “We’re all professionals no matter who’s in or who’s out; we just have to go out there and still play our game. Kovy’s obviously an unbelievable player and adds so much to this team, but we have to still go out there and play better than we did tonight.”

We may never get an explanation as to why Kovalchuk was scratched from the game (for the first time in his career), but MacLean may be playing with fire (and his job) if he decides to bench one of the league’s premier goal scorers on Sunday night against the rival-Rangers.

Game Notes: Kevin Boss from the New York football Giants, a frequent visitor at the Rock, was in attendance among the announced crowd of 14,228. Hedberg’s career record against Buffalo entering the game was 12-2-2. Five different Sabres had two-point nights: Jordan Leopold, Derek Roy, Rob Niedermayer, Mike Grier, Vanek and Ennis. Ex-Sabre Henrik Tallinder was a game-worst -3; Three Sabres (Leopold, Ennis and Steve Montador) were a +3. Leopold led all skaters in ice-time with 24:50 and Andy Greene led New Jersey with 23:08. Vanek led all players with seven shots on goal, while Clarkson led the Devils with six. Buffalo (3-5-1) is off until Tuesday when they play at Philadelphia (3-3-1) and New Jersey (2-5-1) next plays at the New York Rangers (3-2-1) Sunday night.

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Thomas Vanek (Buf) – 2 goals (3)

#2 – Ryan Miller (Buf) – 26 saves, win (3-4-1)

#3 – Tyler Ennis (Buf) – goal (2), assist (5)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Devils-Panthers Postgame Quotes

Here are some of the postgame quotes after Friday’s 4-2  loss by the Devils to the Panthers:

Martin Brodeur:

Are you upset giving away points to a team below you?

“Well, you’d like to win every game; they’re trying to get out of the funk that they’re in and it just shows that you have to play 60 minutes and respect every opponent. I thought we were prepared, but they just beat us tonight.”

Unhappy for you but were you happy for Clemmensen?

“I just lost a game, I don’t think I’m happy for somebody else but, I’m sure he was looking forward to this game.”

What happened on the first goal?

“That’s a long time ago.”

Did Jordan Leopold just beat you high with that shot?

“Oh yeah, (laughs) sorry; I don’t know he just came and walked right in and shot it as hard as he could top shelf.”

On the fourth goal did you guess wrong?

“Eh, he made a pretty good move. I thought he was going to go on his backhand and he came quickly back on his forehand, he still had to get it up over my pad; and he did.”

Surprised to see him that wide open?

“Yeah, I was looking down ice; I didn’t see him coming at all.”

Colin White:

Is it good that you have another game tomorrow night to try and get rid of the bad taste from this one?

“We don’t feel we played very good tonight obviously and we have to come with a better effort tomorrow.”

Was there one thing they did tonight that kept the team off balance?

“They outworked us, and we had a lot of turnovers. They played their game for 60 minutes, and we sat back and instead of dictating the game we didn’t do what our game plan is. We didn’t execute tonight.”

Michael Frolik:
Do you like to play in this building?

“Yeah, for sure, I scored my first NHL goal here, so it’s nice if you come back; I have good memories here, it always stays in your head — I’ll never forget it. I think I really like to play here.”

Can you describe that breakaway?

“I think the d-man on my side; he kind of lost his balance and fell there. I just skated in the middle and Horty (Nathan Horton) saw me up there and passed to me. I got a breakaway and I just did what I did there.”

You guys really wanted to get this win for Clemmensen, right?

“For sure, he was playing here for a while. He did pretty well; he played a really good game and made a couple of good saves.”

Were you surprised you were so wide-open on your second goal?

“Yeah, he fell and I was all alone there (in the middle).”

Did you know what move you were going to use?

“I kind of decided between circles what I was going to do. It’s not my move, but I try to do it sometimes.”


Scott Clemmensen:

How did you feel out there tonight?

“It was good, you know, just all the sights and the sounds of this building really put me at ease. It was good to be back here — I have a lot of good memories in this building; and I put tonight’s win up there with them.”

Was it fun to get the win over Marty?

“Yeah; I respect him and the organization so much, so it does mean a lot for me to come in here and beat them. And I don’t mean that in a negative sense at all, I have so much respect for them that it’s a big win for not only me, but the team as well.”

Was it nice to see an early goal go up there for your team?

“Absolutely, anytime you can jump out to a lead like that, it takes a lot of pressure off, you as a goalie. We had a three-goal lead there at the beginning of the second (period), our guys did a good job getting deflections past Marty. If you let a goal in you know its not the end of the world. I was very impressed with everyone’s effort, particularly our defense tonight. Especially at the end of the game when we were trying to weather their big push there at the end.”

Gets a little hairy in the third when its 3-2?

“Yeah, (laughs), we had some bad losses in the past, but the way we responded – we didn’t change anything, I don’t think anyone was panicking. Then Frolik gets that big breakaway goal and gets it right back; that was a huge goal for us.”

You face the Devils so many times in practice, was it weird when it really counted?

“Yes, definitely; I wish I could explain it better, the only thing I can say is it’s weird. You play against your friends, maybe one or two on a team. Obviously tonight, it was the whole team, it was very strange, very weird, but nonetheless you still have to do your job out there. I’m happy we won.”

Jacques Lemaire:

When it’s a one-goal game, what went wrong on Florida’s fourth goal?

“I think it was Greenie, I didn’t see how it happened. I said ‘how come we got caught there’ and I was told that (Andy) Greene fell. It happened and they scored, but at that time we were coming back and I thought the game was tilting in our favor.”

Do you feel your best players played their best tonight?

“Some of them I know that hey can play better, you’re right. But overall I’m pleased with how the guys played.”

Talk about Dean McAmmond, who’s had some chances and got a goal…

“Well that is a result of hard work, its hard work that he got that goal. You look at that line, that line was solid again tonight, they were on top and played in the other zone quite a bit and spent minutes there.”