Thomas Vanek life and biography

Thomas Vanek picture, image, poster

Thomas Vanek biography

Date of birth : 1984-01-19
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Baden bei Wien, Austria
Nationality : Austrian
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-08-02
Credited as : NHL Ice hockey player, played for the Golden Gophers,

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Some truly remarkable things have come from Austria. Mozart. Freud. Kafka. Klimt. Olympic skiers. French Pastry. The Governor of California. As of 2007, you can add Thomas Vanek to that list. In just his second NHL season, the Sabres winger with the deadly slapshot and drop-dead good looks blossomed into one of hockey’s best two-way players. It’s amazing to think that one year earlier, some fans in Buffalo were actually doubting Thomas. Now they can find little fault in their top scorer. It’s no coincidence that the Sabres became the winningest team in hockey at the same time Thomas found his game.


Thomas Vanek was born January 19, 1984, in Baden bei Wien, Austria. His parents, Jarmila and Zdenek, had moved from Czechoslovakia to neighboring Austria two years earlier. Thomas grew up in Graz and started playing hockey at the age of three.

Winter sports in Austria are centered around skiing; hockey is the poor stepbrother. Not in the Vanek household, though. Zdenek played pro hockey for the Zell am See club, and Thomas wanted to follow in his footsteps. He combined a great physique with natural skills and an almost fanatical approach to practicing and improving. He was one of the few kids on his team who followed the NHL. He idolized Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

At the time, not a single Austrian had made it to the NHL, so the Vaneks began looking for opportunities in North America. The Vaneks knew someone in Lacombe, Alberta, and Thomas was sent to stay in Canada when he was 14. He played midget AA hockey there and began to catch the attention of hockey people.

One year later, in 1999, Thomas moved in with another host family, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He enrolled in O’Gorman High School and played junior hockey for the SIoux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League. Thomas sharpened his skills against top competition, but it wasn't until he experienced a growth spurt that he blossomed into a star. In 2001-02, after two so-so seasons for the Stampede, he scored 46 goals in 53 games and had 91 points.

Thomas was recruited by a number of colleges but ended up choosing the University of Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were on their way to a long-awaited national championship in the spring of 2002 and had an excellent coach in Don Lucia. He liked what he saw in Thomas, who was 18 but appeared to be much older and wiser. He stood 6-2, weighed over 200 pounds, skated great speed and power, and played with amazing creativity and finesse.


No one doubted that Thomas would find success in the college ranks. Few, however, imagined how dominant he would be as a freshman, especially on a team that was looking to become the NCAA’s first repeat champion since 1971. Thomas led the nation with 31 goals, more than half of which came in the third period or overtime. He was named team MVP—the first Minnesota frosh ever to earn this honor—and was WCHA Rookie of the Year. He scored the most points (62) by a first-year Golden Gopher since Aaron Broten in 1980.

Thomas ended the regular season with a seven-game scoring streak and remained red hot in the postseason. The Golden Gophers trounced Mercyhurst in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 9–2, then beat Ferris State to earn a berth in the Frozen Four.

In the national semifinal, Minnesota took on Michigan. The Wolverines dominated play early in the game but led by just 1–0 after one period, thanks to the work of Travis Weber in net for the Golden Gophers. Michigan went ahead 2–0 in the second period, as Thomas was foiled on three excellent scoring chances by goalie Al Montoya. He finally broke through with 2:15 remaining in the period, banging in a rebound to cut Minnesota's deficit in half. Gino Guyer evened the score with a goal early in the third period, and the teams ended regulation knotted 2–2.

The contest moved into the ninth minute of overtime, when Thomas scooped up a loose puck in the left corner, pirouetted out toward the blue line and then surprised Montyoya with a tight-angle shot that went in between his skates. Everyone in the building thought Thomas was going to pass, but he made a perfect, ice-hugging shot that put the Golden Gophers in the championship game against New Hampshire.

After the thrilling victory, Thomas’s teammates began calling him “Carmelo,” after Carmelo Anthony, the Syracuse freshman who led his basketball team to the national title.

The first two periods of the final were tightly contested, with the teams even at 1–1. Thomas ended the deadlock with a goal just before the midway point of the final period. After taking a pass from Matt Koalska, he crossed the blue line with the puck on the left side and cut quickly toward the net. Waiting for New Hampshire goalie Mike Ayers to commit, he pierced the upper lefthand corner with a wrsiter as he skated past the right side of the crease.

Jon Waibel followed with another goal to make it 3–1, and Barry Tallackson netted two more to finish the scoring. Thomas’s goal was his fifth game-winner of the season. He was voted the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

That June, Thomas was selected with the fifth pick in the NHL draft by the Sabres. It was tempting to turn pro, but with Minnesota’s young team set to go for three titles in a row, he decided to stay in college, with Buffalo's support.

Thomas was a marked man in his sophomore season with Minnesota. Even so, he led the team in scoring, amassing 26 goals and 25 assists in 38 games. He missed a couple of weeks at midseason with a shoulder injury. Nonetheless, Thomas earned All-America honors and was named Second-Team All-WCHA. The Golden Gophers failed to repeat as NCAA champs, losing to Minnesota-Duluth in the Midwest Regional final.

Thomas was a no-brainer pick for the Austrian squad at the 2004 World Championships in Prague. In six games, he scored twice and had five assists—four in an opening-round wipeout of France.

Feeling he was ready for the pros, Thomas began negotiating with the Sabres. He signed a deal in September and packed his bags for Rochester to play minor-league hockey in the 2004–05 campaign.

The plan for Thomas was to play one season with the Americans and then move up to the big club in Buffalo. It played out that way, as he logged a full year Rochester, scoring 42 goals to tie the team record for a rookie. Thomas was murder on the power play, where he collected a total of 68 points in 74 games. That total was good for second on the Amerks to Chris Taylor.

Behind Thomas and Taylor, the Amerks finished with the best record in the league. Thomas played well in the postseason, tallying five points in five games. Rochester, however, lost its first-round series.

Thomas made the Sabres out of camp in 2005, joining a deep and talented team. He notched an assist in his first NHL game, setting up a goal by Maxim Afinogenov against the New York Islanders. During his first few weeks in the NHL, however, Thomas seemed lost at times. The Sabres were on the verge of shipping him back to Rochester in November when he scored his first two goals of his career.

Thomas picked up the pace from there, ending his first NHL campaign with 25 goals and 23 assists. His point total ranked seventh among league rookies. The Sabres excelled in the playoffs, nearly going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. For Thomas, the experience was less than enthralling. Coach Lindy Ruff, who questioned the rookie’s dedication to improvement, benched him for eight of the team's 18 postseason games.

Ruff's heavy-handed treatment angered Thomas, and he cooled to the Sabres over the summer—so much so that the team actually thought of trading him. Thomas spent much of the offseason in the Minnesota wieght room, preparing for a leaner, meaner 2006–07 campaign.

By preseason camp, he and Ruff had made peace, and the Sabres were focused on a run at the Stanley Cup. Buffalo broke out of the gate in a hurry, winning its first 10 games. Thomas played most of the year on a line with center Derek Roy and Afinogenov at right wing. For the trio, it was a point of pride to keep opponents from scoring during their shifts, which translated into a soaring plus/minus for all three players. Thomas, in particular, put up eye-popping numbers. He surpassed the 40-goal plateau and finished with 43—more than Buffalo legends Gil Perraul and Alexander Mogilny scored in their second seasons and the most since Pat LaFontaine’s 53 goals in 1992–93.

Thomas’s plus/minus was spectacular all year. His line’s scoring was excellent, and they backed up their talk about defense. It helped that they often faced the other team’s fourth or fifth line, but even so, at season’s end Thomas topped the NHL at +47—quite a feat for a forward. With teammates and co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere having great scoring years, it was Thomas who ended up leading the Sabres in goals, assists and points.

Buffalo finished with 53 wins and 113 points to claim the NHL’s best record. The Sabres squeezed out a first-round playoff victory against the Islanders, then managed to beat the Rangers in the second round despite being outplayed much of the time. Thomas netted the game-winner in the first contest against New York, and the Sabres took the series in six games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

As the Sabres surge toward the Stanley Cup Finals, the fans in Buffalo are certainly glad that Thomas is in uniform. Some can’t help think how far the team might have gone 12 months earlier had Ruff not benched him. Chances are pretty good that no coach will ever make that mistake again.


Thomas became a winning player when he started thinking about defense. Though still offense-obsessed, he has developed an understanding of the balance needed to be effective at both ends of the rink. Thomas is no longer as quick breaking out of his zone on changes of possession, sticking around to help his teammates when they need it. He doesn’t overstay his shifts, either .

Thomas has great hands, terrific footwork, and a determination to put the puck in the net. He is a superb one-on-one player. His slap shot is a legitimate weapon, and his ability to score from odd angles keeps defenses on edge whenever the puck is on his stick. It may be too early to tell, but he shows all the signs of becoming an elite NHL scorer.


* Thomas was the first European to play hockey for the University of Minnesota.
* Thomas was the first frosh to lead the Golden Gophers in scoring since Mike Antonovich in 1970.
* Thomas was the 73rd player in Minnesota history to reach the 100-point plateu. He did so as a sophomore.
* Thomas scored his first goal as a pro against Manitoba in a November 2004 AHL game. He got his first hat trick against Syracuse in March of 2005.
* Thomas led the AHL with 25 power-play goals in 2004–05. He was a member of the All-Rookie Team that season.
* In 2006-07, Thomas became the first Sabre to score 40 goals since Mirolsav Satan in 1999. He led the NHL with 30 goals scored at home.
* Thomas was fifth among NHL forwards in 2006–07 with 84 points.
* Thomas finished ahead of Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson for the plus/minus lead in 2006–07. He is the first Austrian to lead the NHL in a major statistical category and the first Sabre to win the plus/minus championship since Jim Schoenfeld in 1980.
* In a 2006 game against the Canadiens, Thomas became just the second player in history to score in a shootout with a slap shot.
* Thomas scored his first NHL playoff goal against the Flyers in April of 2006.
* Thomas lives in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville. He has a summer home in Minnesota and a dog named Diesel.
* Thomas was a talented soccer player in high school.
* Thomas speaks almost flawless English.

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