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At career crossroads, Vanek gets a chance with Team Europe

TORONTO -- Thomas Vanek needs a reboot on his career and hopes a new home will bring that this season. Before heading to his first training camp as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, the longtime former Sabres winger is getting a chance for some early competition as the lone Austrian member of Team Europe.

The hybrid squad of players from eight nations stunned Team USA here Saturday, 3-0, and can put itself into great shape for a berth in the World Cup semifinals when it plays Team Czech Republic Monday at 3 in Air Canada Centre.

"I think it's come together very easily because a lot of us knew each other from different teams already," Vanek said. "The only guy I didn't know was Leon Draisaitl because he's young. It didn't take long at all for our team to bond and know what we're going for."

Team Europe looked old and slow in its two exhibition games against Team North America when it was outscored, 9-1, in the first four periods of pre-tournament play by the young guns. But after nearly wiping out a four-goal deficit in the second meeting in Montreal, Team Europe surprised Sweden and pulled off Saturday's stunner as Draisaitl, the former No. 3 overall pick of Edmonton, scored one of the goals.

"I thank the kids for spanking us so hard," coach Ralph Krueger joked about Team North American after Saturday's win. "Because we had adversity early, it brought us together and clarified what we needed to do."

"As a team, we know we're a good veteran team," Vanek said. 'Could we skate with those young kids? No chance. At least I can't. But we know what we are."

Vanek played 11:43 in Saturday's opener and had one shot on goal while playing left wing on the fourth line with Philadelphia's Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Vancouver's Jannik Hansen.

Team Europe has plenty of Stanley Cups and Olympic medals and berths on its roster, which is the oldest in the tournament. Vanek has none of those but his career resume is hardly flimsy. He has 316 goals and 649 points, most of those piled up when he played with the Sabres from 2005-2013. A college star at Minnesota who led the Gophers to a Frozen Four title in Buffalo in 2003, Vanek returned there as a free agent two years ago and things never worked.

The Wild bought out Vanek's the final season of Vanek's three-year, $19.5-million contract after last season, when he posted career lows in goals (18) and points (41) while posting a minus-10 rating.

"I know I can still play the game and score goals. For me the biggest thing was Minnesota just wasn't a good fit," said Vanek, 32. "It is what it is. There's no rhyme or reason for it. It didn't work out. I think being back in the East is going to help me and the way Detroit plays with smaller skilled guys, I think I can get to the front of the net and go to where I'm good at.

"It's always easy to look back and I say I should have done this or that. I knew going into it that it wasn't going to be easy but I didn't care. I wanted the challenge. I wanted to see if it could work. It's a place that's close to my heart. The only championship I've ever was in my college days there and to win another one there would have been awesome. It just didn't work out."

Vanek and former Buffalo co-captain Steve Ott both signed with the Red Wings in the offseason and are living near each other in the suburbs. They will be part of plenty of ceremonies this season as the Red Wings play their final campaign in 38-year-old Joe Louis Arena.

"It's awesome. When I was in Buffalo, we played in Detroit a lot obviously and I always enjoyed it. I like old buildings," Vanek said. "They have a great atmosphere. I love the history of the league and for that part, it will be cool to play for a franchise with a history like that. We moved down in the middle of August and it reminded us of Buffalo. The neighborhoods are beautiful just like Buffalo. It felt like home really quickly."


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