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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