x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Thomas Vanek's success with Buffalo Sabres can be traced back to Austria

A return home to play in leagues in his native Austria seems to have awoken the superstar in Buffalo's Thomas Vanek.

Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres, left, spent the NHL lockout back in his native Austria, playing in a local league, and he has carried the confidence gained back home to a hot start with the Sabres.
Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres, left, spent the NHL lockout back in his native Austria, playing in a local league, and he has carried the confidence gained back home to a hot start with the Sabres.

Thomas Vanek has been a steady scorer for the Buffalo Sabres, but not exactly a points machine over his eight-year career.

Seeing the Austrian-born winger at the top of NHL scoring lists one month into the season was only slightly more surprising than watching a cat win a dog show.

Vanek - with 11 goals and 23 points - has finished among the league's top 30 scorers only once.

He plays on a mediocre (6-8-1) Buffalo team that has a "defence-first" mentality, and a "defence-last" record.

The Sabres' 50 goals allowed are among the league's worst.

Vanek has never scored fewer than 25 goals in a season, and has topped the 40 mark twice.

But if this truly is his first superstar-type season, it might have been sparked by a recent return to his Austrian roots.

During the lockout, the 29-year-old forward played for his hometown Graz team in the Austrian League, where his games, home and away, routinely sold out.

"It's Vanek Nation over there," his Sabres teammate Tyler Myers told the Buffalo News, after Myers returned from his own spell in Austria playing against Vanek.

"He's the man, the star player."

Vanek is revered for good reason.

He is one of only three Austrians in the NHL, and his game, to date, has greatly outshone those of countrymen Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders and Andreas Nodl of the Carolina Hurricanes.

It had been a long while since he competed on home-country ice.

He was a boy when he went left for Canada to hone his game.

"I left at 14 to chase a dream," he said.

"That was to make it to the NHL and win a Stanley Cup.

"Sometimes you lose sight of what got you there. I'm very proud of where I came from."

The 6ft 2ins (1.88m) left wing, a solid 205 pounds (93kg), hit the ice in his stride when the NHL finally began its season, last month.

He and linemates Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson scored 23 of their team's first 43 goals.

The Sabres did not win a game without Vanek scoring until they beat Boston on Friday.

Buffalo are still last in the Northeast Division, needing to solve multiple problems.

As their coach Lindy Ruff bluntly put it: "It's on me to clean up this mess."

With the exception of the league's scoring leader, no doubt.

The chance of Vanek maintaining his torrid pace may be slim, since opponents are rapidly adjusting their defences to shut down his line.

For now, he is the king of the mountain, as well as a prince of the Alps.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

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