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Isles' Vanek embracing the outdoor game experience

by Adam Kimelman

Thomas Vanek learned very quickly one of the benefits to being traded to the New York Islanders.

It wasn't long after the Oct. 27 trade that sent him from the Buffalo Sabres to New York that his phone started ringing, with ticket requests for the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series game between the Islanders and New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 29, 2014.

"That was one of the first things when I got traded here," Vanek told "Days after I'm getting texts out of nowhere, you guys are playing outdoors. My ticket list is growing."

The Yankee Stadium game will mark the second time Vanek has taken part in an NHL outdoor game. He was with the Sabres on Jan. 1, 2008 for the inaugural NHL Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.


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The day featured more than 70,000 fans packed into the home of the Buffalo Bills, and the game had the raucous atmosphere of an NFL Sunday.

"I think we pulled in at nine in the morning and people are tailgating and having fun," Vanek said. "You knew the day was here but just walking out for warmups, game time with the fireworks and seeing the people go nuts, that was fun."

Vanek said what he remembers most from the game is the sea of faces as he and his teammates walked out toward the ice.

"Walking out of the tunnel and seeing the people and stuff, the atmosphere, it was something you picture, but until you go through it, that was the wow factor for me," he said.

With his outdoor game experience, Vanek could serve as a touchstone for teammates going through it for the first time. While Vanek said he'd answer whatever questions he could, he said the only real way to handle it was just to experience it.

"You can't tell guys about the game or whatever," he said. "They'll figure it out. As far as the experience, just take it in and make sure you're ready.

"It's just a great memory. Just soak the day in because in Buffalo it was a long day, but looking back at it, it was awesome. It's something you can always look back at, tell your buddies 20 years from now or let your kids know about it. Just a special day. Obviously it's still important to get the two points, but soak in everything around it."

Vanek said he's looking forward to going outside again, especially at Yankee Stadium. While he was born in Austria, Vanek has been in the United States long enough to know what Yankee Stadium means in the annals of American sports history, and just how much playing a hockey game there means.

"I think it's different," he said. "For Buffalo, they live for the Bills and Sabres. For that city to combine those two sports in one venue was pretty special. Now you're talking about Yankee Stadium, New York. That adds another element. I'm looking forward to it."


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