Info

Birthday - 19.Jänner, 1984
Place of birth - Baden, Austria
Jersey# - 26
Position - LW
Height - 6'2"
Weight - 207 pounds
Parents - Zdenek und Jarmila Vanek
Family - wife Ashley, son Blake Thomas
Hobbies - Soccer, Tennis, Fishing and Golf

 

 

Favorite food: steak with potatoes

Favorite band/musician: U2 and Green Day

Favorite album: everything from U2

Favorite film: Old School

Favorite book: Hermann Maiers biography

Favorite holidays: Paris

Hobbies: Golf (Handicap 12), Tennis, Soccer, fishing

Biggest success: Winning the NCAA-championship

Hardest defeat: Every year in which my team does not win the cup/championship

Pet: Dog ("Diesel")

Role model: Hermann Maier, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer

 

Always on target

Even when he was young one thing was clear for Thomas: "I want to be a player in the NHL!" Already in 1998 he made his international breakthrough scoring 21 goals in only 14 games at the Quebec "Pee Wee Tournament", the biggest junior-tournament worldwide. Thomas was voted into the All-Star-Team of the tournament and canadian newspapers started drawing comparisons to Mario Lemieux. Also, a few decades earlier another player made people's heads turn at this tournament: none other than Wayne Gretzky himself...

Off to the New World

But that was only the first step. The second would be much harder. Aged 14 Thomas started to outgrow the Austrian hockey-world. The logical conclusion was to go overseas. Here the first station were the "Lacoka Wolves" in Canadas AAA-league. There Thomas scored 76 goals and 36 Assists in only 40 games. The next step brought Thomas into the USHL (the highest junior league of the US) to Sioux Falls Stampede. There Thomas registered 80 goals and 73 assists during his three year and 108 games-stint with the Stampede. In his last year with Sioux Falls Thomas even broke the club record by scoring 46 goals and 45 assists.

Austrian at heart

Suddenly, Europe started to take interest in the "lost son". Slovakia found out that Thomas' mother was Slovakian and invited the rising star to join the national team's trainingscamp. Thomas declined the slovakian invitation. Instead he joined the Austrian junior squad under coach Greg Holst.

First Euro-Gopher

By deciding to play for Austria, Thomas could once again focus on his own career. The next step was joining the Minnesota Golden Gophers college hockey team. So, in the season 2002/03 Thomas became the first European ever to take the ice for the Gopers in hockey-mad St.Paul/Minneapolis. What followed was one of the most outstanding rookie-seasons in US-college-hockey: 31 goals, 31 assists in 45 regular season games, and finally the triumph at the "frozen four". There he scored the game winning goals in the semi-finals and in the final. Furthermore, Thomas was voted MVP of the tournament, voted into the All-Star-Team of the tournament and - of course - rookie of the year.

Becoming a Sabre

Coincidence or destiny? The "frozen four" had been held at Buffalo's HSBC-Arena. Amongst the spectators was also Lindy Ruff, head coach of the, at that time, mightily struggling Buffalo Sabres. It was already clear that Thomas would be a high pick at the next draft, probably going as high as number one. The Sabres never imagined getting a shot at Thomas, as they had the fifth pick of the draft. But on June 21st 2003 that's exactly what happened. The Sabres drafted Thomas at number 5, making him the highest drafted Austrian player of all time. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was picked by the Pittsburgh Penguins at number 1, Carolina chose Eric Staal at number 2, Florida grabbed Nathan Horton at number 3 and Columbus chose Nikolai Zherdev at number 4. Looking at how the prospects developed over the next few years, Florida and Columbus would probably rethink their choices.
However, Thomas opted to stay another year at college. During an injury riddled season he scored 51 points (26 goals, 25 assists) in 45 games. Then it was off to the pros. Thomas signed a 3-year-contract with the Buffalo Sabres and spent the lockout-season with the Sabres' farmteam in Rochester.

International success

At the same time Thomas showed his fans at home what he was capable of. During the IIHF-World-Championships in Prague he scored 2 goals and 5 assists for Team Austria, leading his squad in points and helping the Austrians first to rout France and then to surprise Canada and Switzerland by battling those two hockey nations to draws.

Getting his feet wet at pro-level

The fall of 2004 finally saw Thomas taking his first steps at the pro-level. Needing only a few games to get used to the up-tempo game Thomas quickly became a key-player for the Rochester Americans. 42 goals made Thomas the second best goal-scorer in the league. Those 42 goals also shattered the Amerks' rookie-record. Thomas was also voted into the Rookie-All-Star-Team of the AHL. All in all, Thomas recorded 68 scoring points during his first and only campaign with Rochester.

The NHL, finally

Thomas' dream of playing in the NHL came true in the next year. The league and the players had settled their CBA-dispute and the "New NHL" was started - including Thomas on the Buffalo Sabres' roster. Thomas made his debut on the 5th of October 2005. On November 9th he scored his first goal in a Sabres uniform (his 14th NHL-game, against Carolina). Though getting off on a relatively slow pace Thomas went on to become the second best goal-scorer of the Sabres. All in all he recorded 25 goals and 23 assists during his rookie-season with the Sabres. The ensuing playoffs saw Thomas' career taking a first dip: Coach Lindy Ruff benched Thomas for 8 of the Sabres 18 playoff games.

Breakthrough

But Thomas wouldn't be stopped by this setback. He bounced back, trained even harder over the next summer and came to the Sabres training-camp slimmer, faster and fitter. Consequentially, Thomas became the Sabres leading goal scorer during his sophomore season: 84 points (43 goals, 41 assists) in the regular season were only topped by the Sabres' superstar Danny Briere. Amongst goal-scorers Thomas was the best on an outstanding Sabres roster and number 5 in the whole league. Even more important: Thomas had radically improved his defensive play, which showed in a staggering +47 (as opposed to the -11 the year before) in the NHL's plus/minus ranking - as the first Austrian ever Thomas was regular-season-winner in one of the important NHL-rankings. Furthermore, Thomas was the first NHL-player since Milan Hejduk during the 2002/03 campaign to record a 40/40-season: more than 40 goals and more than a +40 in the plus/minus rankings. The playoffs saw yet another fruitless Cup-run for the Sabres. Ottawa proved to be too strong. Still, the summer of 2007 will be an unforgettable one for Thomas. First, he signed a new seven-year-contract with Buffalo over 50 Million Dollars, second, Thomas became daddy of son Blake Thomas in mid of August.

Ups and downs

The season 07/08 saw the first major break in Tom’s steady rise to the top. Everything started out perfect: In October Tom was voted "ahtlete of the year" in Austria. He was the first hockey-player in the history of this most important sports-award in Austria to achieve this feat. But then the Sabres just couldn’t get over the loss of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury who had left the club in the summer of 2007. Especially the first few months without their co-captains saw the Sabres string together some wins and a lot more losses. Of course, Tom’s performance was affected by that, too. But the Sabres wouldn’t back down and got better and more consistent from the All-star-break on. Tom netted four hat-tricks, in the end Buffalo missed the playoffs by 4 points. Despite the slow start, Thomas finished the season with 36 goals and 28 assists.

Instead of relaxing, enjoying the unfamiliarly early summer-break and nursing a nagging hip-injury, Tom boarded a plane immediately after the Sabres-season had come to an end and flew back to Austria to help the national squad winning the “pool B” world-championships. The mission was a complete success, Thomas scored 5 times to become the best goal-scorer of the tournament.

Private bliss

That was a great way to finish the hockey-season. Still, the absolute highlight was still to come. On July 12th Thomas married his girl-friend Ashley in Minnesota. Around 300 guests witnessed the exchange of vows. Among them a lot of old friends from Austria.