Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 10/20/08 at 04:45 PM ET
The First Star of the Week, Thomas Vanek took part in a tele-conference today….
Q. When you’re a goal scorer, is there a lot more weight put on you than if you’re a point producer? Is there a lot more pressure on guys who are known as goal scorers?
THOMAS VANEK: Sure, I mean, just like you said, I mean, it’s a good label and a bad label at the same time. I think if you’re known as a goal scorer, you want to be the one putting up the goals. Guys who are just known as point guys sometimes get away with I think a lot of maybe second assists or so.
But at the same time I think it is a team sport. Like myself, I’m not too worried about goals and points. Always at the end of the year you look back and you obviously want to be up there in the top 20 or top 15 in goal scoring.
Q. What changed it for you in the last several weeks last year when you were scoring every game, and now you’re scoring again? Anything that turned it for you?
THOMAS VANEK: I don’t know if there’s necessarily one thing that I would point back to. I think I was usually a pretty slow starter, which I did last year again. It took me a while to get going. I think the second half of the year, coach Lindy Ruff gave me a little bit more ice time, a little bit more responsibilities. With that my minutes went up and I kind of stayed in the game better, got a better flow of the game. I think that helped me.
I think that has been a tremendous help for me the first week of the season, getting some ice time on the PK penalty kill playing a lot of minutes. It makes the game a little easier. Even on the PK, I got rewarded a few goals.
It’s nice to stay in the game, stay in the flow of the game, not sit on the bench for maybe four, five, six minutes.
Q. The weight of your contract last year after the Oilers made the free agent offer, you try not to have that in the forefront, but obviously it’s also hanging over your head when everybody says, He’s making $10 million a year.
THOMAS VANEK: Didn’t matter to me. The people that know me, it’s never been about money. I left at an early age from back home to chase my dream of playing in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup. The money’s not going to change the work I put in the off?season and everything else. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself.
So, I mean, obviously the media and stuff, it’s what they need to write. When it’s not going well, that’s an easy thing to point at. But I never would say that was it, that’s why I started slow, because of the contract. I would never excuse myself for that.
Q. When I ran into Ryan Miller before the season, we were talking about the season you had. He made the point, as you did a moment ago, he felt you really just put too much pressure on yourself. Did you feel when you looked at your season afterwards that was an issue? Did coaches or teammates talk to you about being a little less harsh on yourself this season?
THOMAS VANEK: No, no one talked to me. I put the same pressure on myself this year than I did last year. And this year it’s working out.
Like I said, I think it’s just my personality. I don’t think anyone’s going to tell me to settle down or something. I have high expectations of myself. I think until I lose those expectations, I don’t have ‘em any more, I think I’m taking a step back.
Like I said, obviously it’s just the type of player, type of person I am, I guess.
Q. There’s been a lot of talk recently since the NHL started the season whether the NHL will soon end up in Europe with NHL franchises. What are your thoughts on that? Do you see that would be successful over there? Do you think it would be difficult for NHL players who play most of their games in North America to make a trip or two over there every season?
THOMAS VANEK: I think it could work. I definitely think it could work. I think hockey’s growing and growing in Europe. It’s getting bigger every year. Obviously I think the first few years would be tough with the travel and stuff. But I think after that, I mean, teams and players will get adjusted to the travel and the scheduling. I think it would work.
Obviously it would take some time to, like I said, get used to all the circumstances. But, you know, I think like everything, it takes a little time. If it ever happens, there’s going to be lots of negative things about it. But in the end, I think everyone just needs to kind of see the positive of it and more teams and better exposure for everyone. I mean, that’s what every player wants.
So, yeah, I can see it happening. It might take a few years to really get it going.
Q. How old were you when you left home to come to the United States?
THOMAS VANEK: I was 14.
Q. Austria is ranked 16th in the world right now. Will you be in the Olympics?
THOMAS VANEK: We have a qualifying tournament in February. I think we’re in with Germany and two other teams. The winner of that tournament goes to Vancouver. I’m hoping.
Q. Can you participate in that tournament?
THOMAS VANEK: No. We’re mid?season. Unless the Sabres somehow tell me or let me go, which I doubt.
But, no, I think Austria, we have good enough players to play in Europe, who can do it. But obviously it’s going to be a tough task for them.
I would love for them to win the tournament and help them out in Vancouver.
Q. There’s going to be so much talk about the Olympics. You’re one of the best players in the NHL. You might not get to participate in it. Does that bother you?
THOMAS VANEK: It sucks, yeah. I’m not going to lie. I always loved playing for my country. This past year I played in the B Pool. Even that, I had fun. I think the Olympics is just every kid’s dream. It was always my dream.
Like I said, it’s not in my hands if I’m going to be there or not. But hopefully we will and I can join them. If not, I wish most of my teammates and the other guys I know who go the best of luck and I’ll watch them on TV.
Q. When you lost Drury and Briere last year, was it true to say you spent a lot of the season trying to form a new identity with the Sabres?
THOMAS VANEK: I don’t know. I think the media made a big deal out of it. I think obviously in the locker room we know we lost a lot of leadership and offensive power. But at the same time I felt like we had a good team last year as well.
I think the problem we had last year and the couple years before that, because we got spoiled of having a lot of good players, offensive good players, winning a lot of games 6?3, 6?4, high?scoring games. I mean, last year we lost a lot of the tight games. I think we learned a lot from that last year and it’s paying off early in the season for us this year.
Q. When the game is over, do you still watch every shift before you leave, every shift you played?
THOMAS VANEK: The next day. Not right after. I usually try to. If it’s a good game, I try to get over it. If it’s a bad game, I’ll try to get over it even quicker.
But I think the next day, for all of us, we go back to work. We look at what we can do better, you know, how to improve.
Q. You mentioned the increased ice time, getting into the flow of the game. You look at your start this season. Lindy mentioned your play away from the puck, your effort there. What other things on the ice, differences, are you seeing so far this year in your play?
THOMAS VANEK: I don’t know. I think that’s for other people to judge. But I feel good. I’ve always had good streaks, and I had a bad streak. So right now I’m just trying to work on consistency. You know, it’s been only five games. I’ve been doing good so far.
The biggest thing, impact I can see, is obviously the ice time. And it’s not to say that if I play the rest of the year 20 more minutes I’m going to keep this up, because there’s going to be a lot of nights where nothing’s going to go in, nothing’s going to go my way. But it makes it a little easier to stay in the game and stay focused over the 60 minutes.
Q. Not only you personally, but the team is off to such a good start. Last year you were swimming upstream after starting slow. Can you talk about the difference a good start like this makes in a season?
THOMAS VANEK: Well, I think it’s huge. I think our mentality changed in training camp. I think the coaches have done a good job of harping on us winning tight games, playing good defensively, not giving up a lot of scoring chances, where I think last year we went on streaks where we lost five, six, seven games. I think guys started to realize after that, Hey, we got to stop this, we got to start winning again.
As I said earlier, I think we got spoiled a couple years before. Last year we thought it’s going to be February, March, we’re going to put in 10, 12 in a row, be in the playoffs. It doesn’t happen in this league. I think definitely we’re doing a good job of defending and winning tight games.
Q. You look at some of the guys that got taken care of long term in off-season. That was what Buffalo’s focus was. Is it now you can just focus on winning as a team, moving forward?
THOMAS VANEK: Well, it was great to see. Honestly I’m here locked up for a while. Four, five, six other guys are here for a while. So I think we know our core team is going to be here for a while, which makes it nice. It makes it easy to go to practice and see the same guys each and every day, work hard, play hard for them.
Q. Before the first game there was some talk about who might center the line with you and Jason Pominville. I think Dan Paille was in that and Derek Roy. How has Lindy used you? Lindy pretty much always changes lines around. Tell me about why it works with Derek and Dan.
THOMAS VANEK: Well, I think I’ve been with Derek pretty much ever since I came into this organization. I think I’ve been with Derek in Rochester. And ever since I came up here, I would say 90% of the games I’ve been playing with Derek.
I think with Dan, me and him have done a good job on the PK. I think we kind of know where each other are at. It’s good to have. So I’m finding good chemistry with both guys.
Q. One of the things I noticed about that first game, last year you missed the playoffs by a little bit, this year you started off with Montréal, the division winner. Not only did you beat them in a shootout, but you skated with them all night. Your forwards haven’t changed much this year, but you’ve added Craig Rivet, Sekera is improving, and Numminen is back. Is that where the difference may be in terms of being able to play with Montréal?
THOMAS VANEK: I think it’s a huge difference. I think if you look at our last year’s numbers, we scored enough goals; we just gave up too many. I think with Craig back there, big, tough, right-handed defenseman, with Teppo back, another right-handed defenseman, I think it makes a difference.
I think last year, our D, we had six left-handed defensemen. That makes it tough to break out the puck sometimes. Now having both of those guys here, both right-handed defensemen, I think it does make a difference. It makes it easier for them to move the puck out and for the forwards to get going easier.
But I think at the same time I think every line’s doing a good job of coming back, helping them out, helping them out, and helping Ryan Miller and Patrick Lalime out.
Q. You mentioned the disappointment of not being able to play in the Olympics. You had a chance to win an NCAA championship. Talk about playing at that level before the NHL and how it helped you mentally to think you’re coming along good in this game.
THOMAS VANEK: I think it was great. If I would do it all over again, I think I would do it exact same. I think the University of Minnesota gave me a great opportunity, gave me tremendous facilities and education.
I think the important part about college is you have less games. I think you work out a lot more. But I think off the ice you learn a lot more about yourself than maybe if you played junior hockey. All you do is travel and stuff.
It was the right and good route for me. I would definitely do it over again.
Q. Can you touch more specifically on what Don Lucia a did for you? And coming back to St. Paul, is it still special to come back to Minnesota and play hockey?
THOMAS VANEK: I still spend my summers in Minneapolis. Still have all my friends, a lot of friends there, who I went to school with and played with.
It was a great time. Don did a great job. I think Lucia is a good coach. I think Mike Guentzel and Bob Motzko, when I was there, did a tremendous job as well. I think we have a great atmosphere there. I think the facilities are one of the best in the country.
So I think all in all, the school is great. I think the atmosphere is good. It’s a hockey state. It’s fun to play there. You know, I still enjoy coming back. I’m definitely looking forward to come there. It’s going to be a tough game against the Wild. But it’s going to be special for me. I’m going to have a lot of my wife’s family that lives there. All the in-laws, all my friends will be there. So I think it’s going to be a good time.
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