There is far more to Thomas Vanek than we expected. Even his passport is more complex and impressive than we knew. Sure, Vanek was born in Vienna and is considered by far the greatest player in Austrian hockey history. But his family and hockey roots are from the Czech Republic, where his father, Zdenek, played professionally. And Vanek’s most important minor hockey season was spent in Lacombe, Alta., outside of Red Deer, where a Canadian hockey friend of his dad knew a family that would take him at age 14 so he could learn the game in Canada. At 15, Vanek moved to Sioux Falls, S.D., to play in the United States Hockey League, and three years later the winger became a fifth-overall draft pick out of the University of Minnesota by the Buffalo Sabres. And Minnesota is where Vanek, his wife Ashley and their three boys have a home. "I wanted to play hockey in Canada," Vanek, 33, says. "My parents supported me and said: ‘Go try it, and if it doesn’t work out, you can come home in two days, two weeks, it doesn’t matter.’ The hardest part for me is I love to talk and joke around and, at 14, I really didn’t know any English. But the family I stayed with had a son my age and a younger daughter. He became my best friend, and his friends became my friends. I still keep in touch with them, see them when we play in Edmonton or Calgary. "My dream coming from Austria was to play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup, and I’m still chasing the Cup." Oddly, Vanek figured he might yet achieve that by signing a free-agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Sept. 1.
Vanek having bigger impact than expected for Canucks
Sportsnet | Nov 25