Former University of Minnesota standout Thomas Vanek has made quite a splash in just three seasons in the National Hockey League with the Buffalo Sabres. Vanek has already tallied 104 goals and 92 assists for 196 career points. He has played in every game the past two seasons and ranked 13th in the league in scoring during 2007-08 with 36 goals and 28 assists for 64 points. Vanek played at Minnesota for two seasons from 2002-04, earning team MVP honors as a freshman during the 2002-03 national championship season.
Vanek and several of his former Golden Gopher teammates have been back on campus all summer, training on the Mariucci Arena ice and using the weight room and training facilities. Gophersports.com recently had a chance to catch up with him.
Q: How beneficial has it been for you to use the university’s facilities and skate against other Gopher alums and NHL players during the summer months?
A: “It’s always nice to come back to where you played and had so much success. It’s always been a big part of my life at the U.’ It’s nice to come back and see the old guys and old coaches and train and skate with them. It’s definitely nice to have.”
Q: How did the summer workouts at Mariucci get started?
A: “In years past we always worked out together but skated somewhere else, so we just figured, Hey, why not work out, get a good group together and skate here and have it all at once.’ I think it’s working out great.”
Q: How have you been feeling personally in preparation for the upcoming season?
A: “I feel great. I think the workouts are great and they’re benefiting us. Being on the ice here and skating every day, practicing and having a good quality scrimmage afterwards really gets you where you need to be.”
Q: Do many of your NHL teammates get opportunities like this to train during the summer?
A: “I know for some of the guys who live up in Canada or even up in Buffalo, there’s a few who seem to do the same thing, but I feel like we’ve got 20-25 quality guys (here at Minnesota) who play pro in Europe, AHL or NHL. We have a high level of competition that’s not easy to get.”
Q: Do you follow the Gophers throughout your season?
A: “I still follow after every weekend and check up how they did and how they’re doing. I think they’ve got a lot of good guys coming in. I think they’ll be young. I think it’s going to take them a little while to get adjusted to college life and college hockey, but I think by the end of the year they’ll be up there just like they are every year.”
Q: You’ve been playing this summer with former Gophers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Okposo, who departed school early like you did. Do you think they’re ready for the NHL?
A: “It’s tough to say. I think they’ll work hard. They put a lot of time and effort into it as it needs to be when you get to that level. For them it’s important to work hard, stay positive and have a good training camp. If they have to go to the AHL, it’s not a bad thing. I played there for a year and it’s fun to see the other levels, get developed down there and then come up.”
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