Thomas Vanek's first year in Buffalo was the year that I fell in love with hockey. I was ten years old, and I attribute a large amount of my fandom to the successes he had over the course of nine seasons. Since it became apparent that Vanek was likely going to want to leave, I was among the crowd calling for Darcy Regier to make a move. In my head it's a move that makes so much sense that when I first heard the news I was glad it was done.
It's bittersweet though, because in the hopes of benefiting the organization in the long run the Sabres officially cut ties with one of their favorite players, a guy whose name and number is on one of my two Sabres jerseys. The other is Ryan Miller. It may be time to head down to the Sabres Store soon.
Before the lockout I wasn't much of a hockey fan. In fact, I remember being kind of glad about the lockout thinking it could help the Bandits' attendance. Then came the 2006 season, which had me glued to the seat as the Sabres shocked all the experts. It was the most fun I've ever had watching the Sabres, and I'm sure it will be a while before it'll ever be challenged. These guys became my heroes. I cried after Game Seven against Carolina.
When Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left, Vanek became the focal point of my Sabres. He was the guy I looked forward to watch every night to see what he'd pull out of his hat. He continued to do this for eight full seasons, and as he grew up I grew up too. My hockey knowledge increased, and my appreciation of Vanek soon was backed up by hard evidence as opposed to emotion.
Vanek became one of the most important players in this franchises' history, something that is overlooked due to him not being a Crosby, Yzerman, Mario-type player. He finishes his tenure in Buffalo fifth all-time in Sabres goals, tenth in points, and fourth in power play goals. One more season and he would have been in the top ten in games played for the team.
I'm not going to act like I knew Vanek personally, but I did get a chance to meet him a few times and he always struck me as a stand-up guy. I will always remember when my Dad took my little sister and I to get his autograph and how much he talked to my sister once he saw her Vanek shirt. That meant a ton to her, and he's been her favorite player ever since. He just lit up, and it was apparent one day he'd make a great father.
I'm guessing this is the feeling that Jason Pominville fans had last season, which I didn't fully understand because I was never as fond of him. Despite Ryan Miller still being on the roster, this move feels like an end to an era. It's the end of the post-lockout teams that I grew up with.
In the end, I would just like to wish Thomas Vanek luck in the rest of his travels. I'll still be cheering for him where ever he ends up, and will still be proudly wearing his jersey proudly at the First Niagara Center (and will definitely not be taking up the Sabres on their nameplate change deal, no offense to Matt Moulson). The Sabres did get great value in the trade, but that's not really what this is about. It's times like these where I like to step back and get sentimental in a way that I don't normally do.
Rick's calls of Vanek's goals still echo in my head. He's been a rock on a team that's been constantly changing, and I know it will take a second to register every time I see Matt Moulson on the ice. When someone asked me today where Moulson should play, my mind immediately jumped to putting him on the top line with Vanek. Not anymore.
It's been a fun ten years Thomas, but sometimes good things have to come to an end. I hope you enjoy finally getting the chance to play with a superstar center. It honestly wouldn't surprise me to see you back someday in the future to raise the number 26 up in the rafters.