Thomas Vanek was drafted by the Sabres in 5th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, making him the highest draft pick in Austrian history.
Vanek signed a three-year deal with Buffalo on September 3, 2004, and began playing for the Sabres in 2005-2006 after a season with their AHL affiliate. He had a promising rookie season with 25 goals and 48 points in 81 games for the Sabres. His performance tailed off in the playoffs, managing 2 goals in 10 games.
Vanek recorded his best statistical season, the following year in 2006-2007. He played in all 82 regular season games for the Sabres, scoring 43 goals, tied for fifth in the league, and 41 assists. He also finished an NHL best +47, earning the NHL Plus/Minus Award. Upon the expiration of his rookie contract during the 2007 off-season, Vanek signed a seven-year $50 million offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers. The Sabres immediately matched the offer sheet, thus keeping Vanek under contract until at least the end of the 2013–14 season. Despite his lucrative new contract, Vanek’s production dipped to 64 points in 2007-2008.
In the midst of a more productive year, however, Vanek was named to his first NHL All-Star Game in 2009 in Montreal. He helped the East to a 12-11 shootout victory over the West. Earlier in the season, on December 13, 2008, Vanek helped the Sabres reach a milestone by scoring the 10,000th goal in franchise history. Following the All-Star Game, on February 4, 2009, Vanek carved a unique little slice of NHL history with a natural hat-trick to cap the Sabres’ 5-0 cruise past the Toronto Maple Leafs in HSBC Arena. It was also Vanek’s fourth consecutive natural hat-trick, matching an NHL record set by Cy Denneny between 1923 and 1924 with the old Ottawa Senators. Later that week, on February 7, Vanek took a slapshot from Anton Volchenkov, fracturing his jaw. He underwent surgery the next day and was announced to be out of the lineup for three to four weeks. At the time of the injury, Vanek was third in the league goal-scoring. At the end of the 2008-2009 season Vanek would score a total of 40 goals with 24 assists totaling 64 points. At the end of the season Vanek led the NHL in Powerplay goals with 20.
Thomas’ Life in Buffalo
From the city center it takes around 15 minutes to get to Williamsville, a suburb of Buffalo. That is where Austria’s NHL-Export Thomas Vanek lives. Parked at the driveway is a big Cadillac-Jeep and once you open the front door you will be greeted instantly by “Diesel”. He pants happily and when he jumps he almost gets up to your knees. Diesel is a Shi-Tzu, explains Vanek, and the Styrian’s companion since 8 months ago. [Styria is the region of Austria where Thomas hails from]
“I have had a dog since I have been a kid, I have grown up with dogs.” says Vanek and adds:” He is not always here, my girlfriend takes him with her to Minnesota sometimes.” If there is no time to watch the dog the neighbor’s wife will take care of Diesel. That would be the girlfriend of fellow sabre Ales Kotalik who lives right next door. Just like defenseman Brian Campbell and forward Jason Pominville – a real hockey settlement.
The two story house was bought a year and a half ago by Vanek, even though he already has one in Minnesota. “Should I play somewhere else at some point I will simply sell it. That is no problem in the USA. And real estate value is rising at the moment,” clarifies Vanek. All the furnishing has been done together with girlfriend Ashley. “Who else should have done it? In the NHL no club is helping you with something like this, they will not look for an apartment for you. You have to do everything by yourself,” says the 23 year old.
Taking matters into his own hands he also has nobody to clean for him. “Most of the time I am alone so there is not much to clean up,” says an NHL-Star who washes and irons his laundry, just like he is used to doing since his college days. And he also cooks “Pasta, grill some meat – that’s enough.” He seems to have talent as houseman, everything is super clean, nothing is lying around. Neither in front of the chimney nor on the black leather sofa or the light gray sofa chairs. The kitchen which is connected to the living room without any separation has also been cleaned top notch.
Thomas proudly presents his pumpkin seed oil reserve, which his parents are keeping updated all the time – he has just stayed a real Styrian. But there is a price for the “pumpkin seed oil pipeline”. Vanek doesn’t have a showcase or something similar for his trophies. “If I won something my parents have always taken it with them to Graz. That’s ok with me, I don’t need the stuff anyway right now – maybe I will get it back sometime later.”
“There is only time during the summer for my hobbies golfing and fishing, during the season there is no time at all for either.” Cinema, going out for dinner or watching movies at home (over 100 dvds are stored next to the TV set) thats all the sins the young star has. Really? “Well, I am playing a lot of Xbox, mostly Tiger Woods Golf or war strategy games,” reveals Vanek. Going out in the evenings is a rarity and he doesn’t really miss it either:” I have made my hobby of playing hockey to my job, I don’t need anything else.”Except his girlfriend Ashley who comes to visit around every other week. His parents only pay rare visits, mostly only twice a year. The rest of the time he is alone with Diesel.
IS it boring sometimes? “Ok, Buffalo is not NYC, Boston or Chicago, it doesn’t have as many attractions or sightseeing. Downtown Buffalo is also not the greatest. But I still get everything I need to live well. You can go out to eat well, the people are always friendly and are happy if they can pat you on the back when you are shopping, however they are never pushy – I really enjoy living in Buffalo.”
Conversation credited to www.thomasvanek.com