Alongside his teammate, Michael Grabner, Thomas Vanek will represent Austria at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Despite being born in Austria, Vanek played college hockey at the University of Minnesota and was a 1st round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2003. Before being acquired by the Islanders earlier this season, he was the captain of the Sabres and will wear the C for Team Austria, which is making it’s first Olympic appearance since 2002. Vanek, who is unsure about his role with the Islanders but wants to remain with the team, will surely have some extra motivation to show the team what he’s capable of and earn a new contract.
For a team with only 3 players currently in the NHL (Flyers forward Michael Raffl is also making the trip to Sochi), Vanek is going to be expected to carry the offensive load. However, that is something Vanek is familiar with as he led the Sabres in scoring 6 of the 8 years he played there. Because of his quick hands and very good shot, Vanek is most dangerous on the power play and his league-leading 20 power play goals in 08-09 will back that up. With the increased ice surface, both Vanek and Grabner will have to use their skating abilities to create offense for the Austrians.
Due to the lack of NHL experience, I don’t expect Austria to compete for a medal but anything can happen, as Vanek was quoted saying:
“I don’t think we’re horrible. I don’t think we can compete with Canada or Finland, but again, you go in there with a good attitude, have fun with it and see what comes out of it.”
However, for a team full of young players eager to earn the respect of their teammates who have reached the NHL, as well as the rest of the world, Austria could be this year’s surprise team. You can bet the former All Star, Vanek, will want to set a good example in return and motivate the younger players to perform on the world’s biggest stage. No matter how motivated the prospects may be, however, the fate of Team Austria is in the hands of former NHLer Thomas Pock, Raffl, Grabner and most importantly, Thomas Vanek.