September 17, 2005
by Brian Wheeler
The combination of Thomas Vanek and Daniel Briere, that has been so effective in the first week of training camp, decimated the Washington Capitals in the Sabres' first preseason game. The dynamic duo combined for four points in the Sabres' 3-2 overtime victory with Vanek netting both the game tying and winner.
"He's a clutch performer," Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said of Vanek. "He seems to score a lot of big goals late."
Vanek scored his first goal of the night after receiving a pass from Briere for the one-timer that beat Washington goaltender Maxime Daigneault low on his stick side at 8:30 in the third period.
In overtime, Vanek barely nudged in another pass from Briere for the winner. The Austrian gave total credit for the game winner to his line mate.
"I saw Washington turned the puck over, Danny pick it up and knew exactly what he was thinking," stated Vanek. "I just tried to hustle to the back door. It was (Briere's) goal, I just held my stick there and it hit it perfectly."
Following the game, Briere complimented Vanek on his offensive ability.
"He knows where to be and he knows how to score," said Briere, the team's leading scorer during the 2003-04 season with 65 points (28+37). "He's a game-breaker."
"It's fun for me, having a chance to play with a guy like that."
Vanek states that the chemistry between himself and Briere is already starting to form, but will take time and repetitions to truly form.
"On that particular play, we were both smart enough to know what the other was thinking and we both have a goal scoring sense," stated Vanek. "(The chemistry) is not going to develop in a week though. Hopefully, we'll get better each game."
The line of Vanek, Briere and JP Dumont has amassed nine points (5+4) during the opening week of training camp. Dumont was unable to play in the game due to an injury suffered in Thursday's scrimmage.
"We're just trying to work on (our game)," stated Vanek. "Hopefully, JP comes back soon so we all can start clicking a little bit more, and play a little better."
Having found past success in HSBC Arena with Minnesota in the Frozen Four and the Rochester Americans in four games played in Buffalo during the lockout, Vanek is trying not to dwell in the achievements of the past, but focus on the near future. A future he hopes includes the league that has National at the start of its name and not the one that has American.
"It was great two years ago but now when I go on the ice, I concentrate on winning with Buffalo and that's it," stated Vanek. "Looking back, it was a great time but I've moved on and this is a great challenge."
Vanek is making a serious case for roster spot when the team opens its 2005-06 regular season schedule against the New York Islanders on October 5.
As the second leading goal scorer in the American Hockey League in his rookie season with 42 goals during 2004-05, Vanek is thought to be the offensive replacement for Miroslav Satan. If the preseason is any indication of what Vanek could do during the regular season, he could be just that.
"(Making the team) was my intention coming into camp," said Vanek. "That's coaches decision. If I'm in Rochester, I think it would be disappointing for myself but I'm just going to work hard and get a chance up here."
Though an impressive showing by the Austrian, Sabres head coach, Lindy Ruff sees much more potential in the young forward's game that he has shown thus far.
"I still think there is another gear there," stated Ruff at the post-game press conference. "He's a big-time goal-scorer that can come through for you but I'd like him to dominate more than that, and I think that once he gets adjusted to the NHL game, he will."
Vanek isn't in disagreement with the Ruff. Despite the spectacular beginning, he believes he has room for growth.
"You can always play a little bit better," stated Vanek.